How much of success is beyond the control of two-year colleges?


At a forum this morning on financial aid and accessibility, Saint Paul College President Rassoul Dastmozd said the federal government should be wary about tying student aid too closely to college accountability measures.

At his urban two-year college, which he said is highly diverse with an average age of 29, his students have a variety of reasons for going to college — and those may not include a desire to graduate.

They also have problems that go beyond academics:

“There is … a human variable in there that I don’t have any control over. There is transportation, there is child care, there is job losses — there is a host of variables beyond academic challenges that I am tasked to deal with.”

He said Saint Paul College has a lot of support services to help such students. But it’s up to the student to take advantage of them.

Yet federal officials don’t often account for that when they compile data on things such as graduation and loan-default rates:

“If I have students coming in and occupying a seat — all with good intent — taking the Pell [Grant], taking the loan, and in less than one semester they exit, they are part of a cohort that gets calculated [in federal performance data]. … At the end of the year, I’m accountable for something I don’t have any control over.”

Unlike private or flagship institutions, community colleges can’t cherry-pick the best students to keep their performance measures up.

Dastmozd said:

“It’s the notion of open access — there’s a place for everyone. We’re going to try to guide those individuals to be successful. But the bottom line exists for that person to be willing to be a partner in his education.”

(By the way, before anyone suggests he’s just another administrator whining about accountability, note that Dastmozd runs a campus that Washington Monthly just rated the top community college in the nation for the second time.)

I’m hoping to include more snippets from the forum next week.