California community colleges on Tuesday will launch a new tool that provides a snapshot of performance at all 112 campuses, designed to help students pick the right school and push the institutions to improve.
The Student Success Scorecard is being touted as one of the most ambitious attempts by any college system to make such key measures as completion rates, retention of students and job-training success accessible to the public and policymakers in an easy-to-use format.
Information for each college as well as statewide averages is available via a portal on the community college chancellor's website, and individual campuses will have their own score card and a link to other colleges on their websites.
The data will make the state's community colleges the most accountable and transparent in the nation, college leaders said.
Information on graduation rates and achievement gaps are also likely to prove useful for a system trying to climb out of a hole of more than $1 billion in budget cuts since 2008 and seeking greater funding support from the governor and Legislature.
The two-year college system has come under scrutiny for reducing classes and enrollment and for the high numbers of remedial students who don't transfer or graduate.
The score cards were among a number of recent efforts recommended by a statewide task force that examined how to improve the system. Previously, much of the data were available in unwieldy, disparate reports.
The timing of the score card is important, as the community colleges' Board of Governors is expected in coming months to set statewide benchmarks and goals for individual colleges. And California colleges will have a head start on new accrediting standards that could also require colleges to meet certain targets, Chancellor Brice Harris said.
"We can begin to focus on where we are doing well and where we have challenges," Harris said. "It's important that Californians have a level of confidence that … we really do intend to improve student achievement."
The score card includes a demographic profile of the students and course sections offered in 2011-12, as well as several other categories:
•Persistence rate — the percentage of students seeking a degree or transfer to a four-year school who remain enrolled for three consecutive terms;
•30-Unit rate — the percentage of degree or transfer students who earned at least 30 units;
•Completion rate — the percentage of degree or transfer students — both college-ready and those who start in remedial courses — who earn a degree, certificate or transfer after six years.
•Remedial — the percentage of students who start in remedial English or math and go on to complete a college-level course in the same subject;
•Career technical education — the percentage of students who earn a degree or a certificate or who transfer in a career technical field.
College leaders said they will be able to use data to track the progress of particular student populations or identify courses with low success rates.
"For Pierce, it will be a great opportunity for us to have a lot of dialogue about how we can mobilize to improve," said Anna Davies, vice president for academic affairs at the Woodland Hills campus.
Noticeably missing from the score card is information on college costs. Officials said the new tool is intended to address student performance and that information on costs and financial aid are available elsewhere.
But including some basic information on fees would have benefited students considering college options, experts said.
A new federal website introduced in February, for example, includes data on college costs, graduation rates and loan defaults that could have been used, said Debbie Cochrane, research director for the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success.
"Whether the data are enough to be useful for students and families is as yet unclear," Cochrane said. "But the work on the new score card is a tremendous step forward. The first step in providing the right information to all constituents is gathering data and looking at it."
It may take awhile for the score card to gain traction with average students, said Rich Copenhagen, president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges.
"It's not something in the culture that students know to look for," said Copenhagen, 22, a College of Alameda student who was a member of an advisory committee on the score card. "But we're looking forward to having a new level of transparency that's more understandable by people who aren't so involved in the inner workings of the system. It will provide some ability for college students across the state to engage their local college in real discussion about student success rates and improving services."