Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Senate committee hears report on Complete to Compete

Unemployment rates would almost certainly be lower in this country if higher education could produce more graduates with the skills needed for today’s economy, Travis Reindl, program director in the Education Division of the National Governor’s Association (NGA), told the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee on Monday.
“We have some emerging industries for which we have shortages, and some where we’ve had chronic shortages,” said Reindl, who cited healthcare as an example of one industry that has seen serious skilled-labor shortages.
Producing the college graduates needed to fill those workforce gaps will require boosting college-success rates among non-traditional categories of students, including low income persons, citizens of color, and working adults.
To do that, states need common performance measures to better gauge what is working in higher education and what is not working so well, Reindl said.
That is the rationale for the NGA’s Complete to Compete Initiative, an effort to get states to develop comparable and reliable metrics that enable them to make better decisions on where to focus limited higher education resources to meet the workforce needs of the economy.
At the state and national level, Complete to Compete is a major initiative of Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is serving as chair of the NGA this year. Within the state, the initiative also has been endorsed by the Governor’s Higher Education Funding Task Force.
The task force recommended Washington take steps to strengthen accountability and performance by public higher education institutions, including adoption of certain Complete to Compete measurements.  The task force also recommended a new incentive fund to reward campuses that achieve measureable goals that help more students complete degrees.
The Governor’s office reportedly is working on draft legislation to implement parts of the task force report.
A National Governor’s Association workgroup developed the education metrics proposed for adoption by the states under the Complete to Compete initiative. A National Governor’s Association overview of the initiative presented to the Senate committee on Monday says higher education data at the state and institutional levels too often are limited and inconsistent, particularly with respect to performance. 
The NGA proposes states compile measurements in two broad categories: outcome and progress.  Outcome metrics include degrees awarded, graduation rates, transfer rates, and time and credits to degree.  Progress metrics include enrollment in remediation education, success in remedial education, success in first-year college courses, credit accumulation, retention rates, and course completion. Technical definitions for the metrics are being prepared.
HECB Executive Director Don Bennett told the Senate Committee that performance and accountability have been among Washington’s strategic goals in higher education for a number of years. He said the NGA initiative is “very much in alignment” with those goals.

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