Policy + Process + People = Outcomes

Community colleges across the United States have been working hard over the past several years to figure out how to get more students to finish a degree or certificate.  This work has been funded by the institutions themselves as well as several major foundations (think Lumina, Bill & Melinda Gates).  This work has been referred to as the Completion Agenda.

Thus far, Completion Agenda work has been directed primarily toward policies and processes.  These have been addressed first because its those things over which we have the most control. Since “students don’t do optional,” community colleges have mandated student success courses, orientation, intrusive advising, etc.  We have automated processes such as degree audits and reverse transfer.  We (community colleges) are now, to varying degrees, creating pathways so students can make more informed choices.

It’s been good work.

It’s been hard work.

It’s been important work.

But it’s not enough. In reality, policies and processes alone are not making that much difference. It’s time to do some heavier lifting.  It’s time to look at the Completion Agenda more broadly and deeply.

To broaden the Completion Agenda, first consider its name.  The very word “completion” means “done,” or “the end,” or “finished.” While certainly an accomplishment worth celebrating, finishing college is really a launching point.  A start. A beginning.

Secondly, consider its purpose.  Achieving a degree or certificate is what we say we want for students.  What do we REALLY want for our students? Don’t we really want them to find a career path they love and earn enough money to sustain a quality of life? Don’t we want them to have, in addition to curricular content, the skills our employers are demanding: communication, creativity, commitment, consistency, etc.?  Aren’t these desires bigger than college completion?

To deepen the Completion Agenda, we need to expand the equation beyond policy and process to include people. We have to think about the “who” in addition to the “how” and “what.” We need to expand the model to include input variables (the students), not just the environmental variables (policies and processes), to have greater impact on outcomes.

Every community college administrator I know will answer the question “who is this about” with “the student.” And I believe them. And I believe they mean it. But who is this REALLY about?  If we are focused only on policies and processes as the key to improving college completion, then I argue it’s about us (the college) and not them (the students).

In future posts I’ll share ideas on ways to expand the Completion Agenda toward employability and inclusive of the people.