Lake Wobegon Performance Measure Reveals All Community Colleges Above Average

by Jenna A. Robinson
Meaningful performance measures don’t cherry-pick data.

Measuring college performance is inherently difficult. Determining whether students are successful because they attended college or simply because colleges are good at identifying talented and dedicated students is nearly impossible.

Nonetheless, measuring colleges’ performance is important. Taxpayers should be able to find out whether they’re getting any value for their money.

The North Carolina Community College System has begun to respond to taxpayer demands. They’ve crafted a multi-measure mechanism to reward colleges for good outcomes. Most of the measures—like GED and licensure passing rates—are sensible.

But a new attempt to measure earnings gains seems designed to only find success. In today’s Pope Center article, Harry Painter reports,

In response to the increasing focus on whether graduates find employment, the NCCCS is trying to add a new measure to its performance funding model based on graduates’ incomes. A new “earnings gains” measure was approved by the State Board of Community Colleges on August 21, but still needs the legislature’s approval…. The metric, using wage records from the North Carolina Department of Commerce, will measure just a narrow group of students. That group consists only of graduates of vocational programs who have full-time jobs for the two years before enrolling and for the two years after graduation. The average age of students measured was 34, six years older than average for the community college system.

Having an employment measure makes sense. And in fact, North Carolina already has a tool to do so. North Carolina’s NC Tower website reports education and workforce data from the North Carolina Department of Commerce. The data stretch back to the graduating class of 2003 and are broken down by college (or university) and major. Using that site, it’s easy to find, for example, that the mean income for 2008 NCCCS graduates working in North Carolina was $32,431 five years after graduating with an associate’s degree. The website also reports the percentage of total graduates from each college who are employed in the state following graduation.

So why is NCCCS reinventing the wheel?

You can read Painter’s story here.