Life Happens. Everybody Counts.
We all want to be included. Nobody likes to feel left out. This is true whether we’re playing kickball in a kindergarten school yard or talking about the government. From the simplest aspects of life to the most complex and dire, the idea of inclusion is paramount. Yet when it comes to reporting college data, a lot of students are being left out.
Did you transfer from one four-year institution to another before you graduated? You don’t count. Did you take a year off to focus on a family member’s medical needs? You don’t count. Did you drop out, try again, and have to start over? In traditional data collection, your success will not be seen.
Historically, national graduation rates are determined by tallying FTFTs: first-time full-time degree seeking students under the age of 25. Some people believe this is no longer the best way to do things. As more and more adults return to school, as 21st century life reshapes everything we thought we knew about culture and people, there are advocates for a more inclusive way of viewing and assessing higher education.
Student Achievement Measure (SAM) is a collaborative effort begun in 2013 with major financial backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. According to the organization’s web site, it is “an improved way to report undergraduate student progress and completion by including a greater proportion of students as well as tracking students who enroll in multiple higher education institutions.” SAM looks at student cohorts that the federal rate doesn’t incorporate and reports multiple success measures for them. The SAM tagline is “More Outcomes for More Students,” and Governors State University (GSU) is an inaugural participating university.
Marco Krcatovich, Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness at GSU says that in a typical GSU graduating class of 1000 students, only about 200 are FTFTs. The other 800 students—no matter how they excel throughout the completion of their undergraduate studies—don’t fit under the umbrella of traditional college data.
Krcatovich explained that the true performance of many colleges doesn’t become apparent until you look at all of the students enrolled. He said some colleges—in particular, “completion universities” like GSU—might be stigmatized or disadvantaged under the original model, but they can be seen to be doing an excellent job when the full picture is known. When, in other words, all of the students count.
Krcatovich said he and his colleague, Institutional Research Specialist Phyllis Streeter, know that the original model has been outmoded for many years. The straight pipeline of in-and-out-in-four-years has been bending and twisting for a long time, for a lot of different reasons. Hence their support of an organization like SAM.
Using the hashtag #CountAllStudents, SAM is at the forefront of the fight to include all students in national data, collecting numbers on both four-year and two-year/certificate programs. GSU is a proud partner on that mission.
“For a lot of our students, life happens,” Krcatovich said, “but the important thing is, we will get you done. Maybe you have to take a semester off because of work, because of family, because you have other commitments. The important thing is, you’re staying on the path. That’s our priority.”