A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Another Ding for Academic Statistics As A Measure of Success

Brookdale Community College (BCC) gets a bad rap in the realm of graduation statistics and I think it is unfair. The school issued 9.6% (1,718) of all associates degrees awarded by community colleges in the state of New Jersey last year (17,984), second only to Bergen County CC (1,867).  That percentage is roughly a percentage equivalent to BCC's enrollment figures, indicating a fair balance between those coming in and those leaving. Enrollment of first-time freshmen at BCC in Fall 2009 (4,103) was 9.3% of all such enrollments among NJ community colleges (45,112). What's not to like?

The Graduation Rate Survey (GRS) requires that a student complete his/her program within three years of entering school or the student's receipt of a diploma will not be counted. In other words, a student is a failure if he/she does not complete the program in the time they've allotted. If a student goes part time or his/her education is interrupted for some reason, the student's eventual achievement of graduation is ignored. It simply does not count in the school's overall performance statistics. In my opinion, the GRS grossly underrepresents graduations under special circumstances, and what is community college in New Jersey if not special circumstances?

Let's look at the statistics from a few years to get an idea of what I mean:
  • In 2006, 2,782 students entered BCC but only 600 of that cohort graduated in the required 3 years, a 21.6% graduation rate. But 1,588 students graduated in 2009, a mixture of those 600 plus some stragglers from previous years.
  • In 2005, 2,667 students entered BCC but only 536 of that cohort graduated in the required 3 years, a 20.1% graduation rate. But 1,768 students graduated in 2008, a mixture of those 536 plus some stragglers from previous years.
  • In 2004, 2,522 students entered BCC but only 424 of that cohort graduated in the required 3 years, a 16.8% graduation rate. But 1,632 students graduated in 2007, a mixture of those 424 plus some stragglers from previous years.

You can easily see that around 80% of students are not meeting the GRS requirement of completing their educations in 36 months. But if you take the total admissions for 2004-2006 (7,971) and consider graduations that occurred in 2007-2009 (4,988), you come to a whopping 62% graduation rate. Admittedly it requires a bit of fuzzy logic, because the students who started three years earlier weren't always the ones who finished that year, but it is obvious that quite a few of these students are finishing or the total annual awards wouldn't be so high..

Maybe the gross figure is the one Trenton should be looking at for this fine school? I think they've been looking at the wrong figures to measure the success of community colleges, if numbers could ever tell the tale.

As for enrollment of noncredit students at BCC, such students (15,551) were 8.5% of all such enrollments last year at NJ community colleges (182,000), putting BCC in 4th place after the more heavily populated counties of Essex (15.2%), Union (9.8%) and Bergen (9.2%). BCC has a heavy load of noncredit students and serves them well.

Lots of adults are going back to school for various reasons -- some take cooking classes, auto mechanics, or computer sciences, but others are handling meatier subjects like calculus, middle east history, or environmental studies. These students are back to beef up their resumes or to make a better beef consume. All seek to improve themselves. And BCC offers that to them, year in and year out.


  1. Community colleges are all about "special circumstances"? That's a damning commentary on Matawan-Aberdeen, where 10% of high school graduates have no plans for secondary education and another 40% attend community college, almost exclusively at Brookdale. Far from being the exception, community college in Mat-Ab is the norm.

    Also, I'm afraid your fuzzy math is way off. The number you use for "total admissions" refers to full-time students. The second number you use for degrees awarded refers to all students, both full-time and part-time. Brookdale offers degree programs for working professionals, such as Interior Design, Office Administration, Culinary Arts, Electric Utility Technology, etc. That's why they award so many degrees despite the high failure rate among full-time students.

  2. I am counting only Associates degrees. I don't include Certificates. The GRS numbers are skewed because of the time limit they impose on graduation.

    It is the students who have special circumstances, not the school. The only thing damning about this situation is that so many students are having trouble attending college for one reason or another. Did you ever think that these kids simply can't afford to continue their program except at a part time rate? Times are tough and costs are high.

    BTW, my tuition at the University of Maryland was less than $400 a semester for a full time program at the state school back in the mid-1970's, about 10% of my part time salary at a drug store. Today's kids are paying more than a year's minimum wage salary to attend Rutgers. Don't begrudge them attending a community college.

    You paint an ugly picture and it simply isn't so. Don't run the place into the ground. It's a fabulous resource for the region at a relatively reasonable price and it's nearby.

  3. When you tell kids they don't need to work to get into college, they probably won't. Brookdale is open enrollment. Everybody knows it. So kids don't push hard in high school and fail to develop the habits and skills necessary for success in college.

    By the way, the programs I listed are degree programs, not certificate programs as you suggest. You can look them up on Broodale's website. Like I said, you're counting from two very different lists. Full time students have a huge failure rate and the overwhelming majority of degrees are given to working part-time students.

    If you want students to excel in high school, you'll have to make high school matter.

  4. I don't think high school students calibrate their educational exertion based on the admissions policy of the local community college. And I just don't see how all those diplomas could be issued to so many failing students.

    If the kids are utterly depressed, I'm sure parents are inspired when they read what the state has to say below about Brookdale.

    "Brookdale is consistently among the top 100 associate degree producing institutions in the nation. The June 14, 2010 edition of Community College Week recently ranked Brookdale 70th (awarding 1,588 associate degrees to the Class of 2009). Brookdale was the top associate-degree producing college in New Jersey, and has maintained that rank for the past 10 graduating classes.

    In terms of specific associate-degree programs, Brookdale ranked 4th nationally in production
    of Education degrees (230); 19th in production of business, management, and marketing and
    related support services degrees (385); 19th in production of Criminal Justice and Corrections
    degrees (114) and 24th in the related category of Security & Protective Services Degrees (114)."

  5. Wow. You think telling high school students their grades, curricula, and extra curricular activities have no impact on their college aspirations won't affect their education? Well, there goes the theory of high expectations. :)

    I'm equally amazed you feel parents should be "inspired" by Brookdale because it is among the "top 100 associate degree producing institutions". Is this the new standard? How many degrees you churn out? If so, we should be truly inspired by Newark. When it comes to number of high school diplomas, they're #1.

  6. Parents should be inspired by the chance to save a boat load of do re mi! Its cheaper, Its acredited. And its a savy way to amass credits toward a Bachelor's degree. Two thumbs up for associate colleges!