By Abdul Hakim-Shabazz
Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I teach at both Ivy Tech Community College and the University of Indianapolis.)
This week, my wife began the last leg of her journey to get a college degree. She started in the physical therapy assistant program at the University of Indianapolis. Like a lot of people, she went to college right after high school, but real life got in the way. So she decided back in 2010 to go back to school and get her degree. She is a licensed massage therapist so she had a post-secondary education, but she wanted to increase her marketability and her skill set. She did what a lot of working people do. She went to Ivy Tech and started taking one or two classes at a time because that is what her schedule allowed. Unfortunately, after spending five years, making the dean’s list and completing more than a year of college credit before leaving Ivy Tech, my wife would be considered a dropout.
I’ll let that sink in for a minute.
Yes, the woman who balanced work, school and dealing with me who managed to keep her grade point average of 3.8 for five years, under the current system of tracking student completion rates would be considered a failure because she left Ivy Tech without a degree, even though she is going to another institution.
And that is part of the challenge when it comes to completion rates in Indiana. The state’s system for tracking completion has gotten better, but there are still some flaws in the system. I speak pretty frequently with the folks over at the Commission for Higher Education and I fully understand why we want to do a better job of getting kids in and out of higher education on time.
Most recently, the data showed Indiana with a completion rate of about 36.1 percent for students seeking a four-year degree. That number was 5.9 percent for students seeking a two-year degree. However, the data shows that on-time completion is the exception, with more than 75 percent of community college students taking three to six years to graduate. My wife will fall into that category. She isn’t lazy or a slacker by any stretch – that’s her husband. She, like a lot of students, has to deal with work and real life, as well as pursuing higher education. And since she won’t be getting a degree from Ivy Tech, she actually would fall into the category of students who don’t finish school.
I think what we need to do is make some adjustments to how we compute college completion. I know the commission has done some of that by looking at the types of students who enter into higher education and where they fit in when it comes to completion. However, I believe categorizing students at the beginning of each term would go a long way to helping the state keep track of where all students are with respect to completing their education.
For example, a student who is there just to take a couple of classes for his or her job would be viewed differently than one who was there pursuing a degree. And even degree-seeking students cannot only be categorized by whether they are full-time or part-time, but also whether they are working full-time or part-time and whether they planned to get a degree at that institution or go somewhere else. Not only would that give us a more accurate picture of the makeup of higher education, but it would also give the state better idea of how to address the completion issue by separating those who are there to seek a degree as opposed to those who are just there to take a class or two.
Ask any dedicated student and he or she will tell you that college requires intelligence, hard work and dedication. And the least we can do from a policy perspective is do a better job of tracking students so we can help them achieve their goals when it comes to higher education, whether it is to take a class or two for personal enrichment or getting that two or four-year degree.
Abdul is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.