Thursday, September 9, 2010

Three KY Community Colleges Among Best in Nation

For five years, the Washington Monthly has been rating colleges and universities on a kind of anti-Princeton scale:

But while there are plenty of guides out there that help students and parents decide how to spend their tuition dollars wisely, there wasn’t one to tell citizens and policymakers which colleges were spending their tax dollars wisely. So we devised a way to measure and quantify how well individual colleges and universities were meeting their public obligations in the areas of research, service, and social mobility (see “A Note on Methodology,” page 86), and we ranked schools based on the results.

This year, however, they added a new category: community colleges. In this economy, with most people unable to afford the ludicrous tuition at even supposedly public universities, community colleges are having to shoulder the load of educating American adults. So the Monthly ranked more than 600 community colleges nationwide on how well they are educating their students.

Three Kentucky colleges made the top 50: Maysville Community College at number 47, Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College at number 32, and Hazard Community and Technical College at number 18.

Here's how they were judged:

Since 2001, a nonprofit organization called the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, based at the University of Texas, Austin, has been gathering information about which community colleges do the best job of adopting institutional practices and encouraging student habits that years of research have shown to be strongly correlated with higher levels of learning. CCSSE has surveyed hundreds of thousands of students at over two-thirds of all community colleges in America about practices including the number of books and papers assigned, the frequency of group assignments, the amount of student interaction with faculty, hours spent preparing for class, and the quality of support services. Unlike similar surveys conducted for four-year colleges and universities, all CCSSE results are published on a Web site ( for anyone to see.

In 2007, Washington Monthly combined CCSSE results with graduation rates published by the U.S. Department of Education to create the first-ever list of America’s best community colleges. This year, we have updated the list with all-new CCSSE data (see “A Note on Methodology,” page 51), ranking more than 650 community colleges nationwide in order to identify the fifty best community colleges of 2010. As usual, they’re all over the map: there’s a small, science-oriented tribal college in New Mexico (at number thirty-five), a job-focused technical institute in rural Hazard County, Kentucky (number eighteen), a midsized suburban college in Washington State that prepares students to transfer to four-year universities (number seventeen), and a college built on the rainy side of an island paradise (number twenty-four). Many of the 2007 colleges reappear on this year’s list, underscoring the reliability of the CCSSE survey. Others stand out for the first time.

Here are some things we learned from these schools:

Selectivity Does Not Equal Excellence

Money Isn’t Everything

Make It Harder and More Will Graduate

We believe that ranking community colleges is important. Nearly half of all American students begin their college careers at two-year institutions. But unlike in the four-year sector, students don’t compete to get into community colleges, and community colleges don’t compete in a national market for students. So there is little demand for national rankings of the kind published annually by U.S. News & World Report—and by the Monthly elsewhere in these pages. That means that students, educators, and policymakers have no comparable, consumer-friendly information when evaluating two-year schools.

Also, it’s essential to learn from the best. As President Obama noted in his speech, most community college students never graduate or transfer to a four-year school. This represents a huge loss of potential. Community colleges have the toughest job in higher education, teaching academically and financially challenged students with a fraction of the resources given to four-year institutions. That makes it essential to spotlight the schools that have surmounted these challenges and served their students well.

Read the whole issue, and not just to find out how far down the rankings UK and U of L fall. It's chock-full of insights about what really works and what doesn't in higher education.

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