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Semi-Random Thoughts on Free College and Measurement

by Tod Massa 1. July 2016 11:44

Yesterday, we had a bit of an email discussion about free community college for adult students. After the various interchanges were complete, this occurred to me:

“Measurement needs to change. The ways college and community college success are currently measured are based on assumptions about [student] intent and personal cost. I think free college challenges those assumptions in a way that has not been considered. In fact, I would argue that the cost differences that exist now are why the same measures used for 4yr schools do not work nearly as well for 2yr schools.”

Thinking way back to the early 1990s and the passage of the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act (PL 101-542), it seems the discussion was primarily about expectations of students to follow the “right” pathway and an implicit interpretation of intent through initial enrollment as full-time or part-time. I don’t recall any discussion about enrollment and graduation rates as function of cost, opportunity costs, and risk.


So, I wonder how much of the difference in graduation rates between two- and four-year institutions are better explained by these factors. 

Does student intent and behavior change with free college? Not just enrollment changes, but tracking towards credential completion and the use of established pathways. 

We have data showing higher graduation rates based on different features of financial aid and family wealth at entry. Those are not the same thing as personal decisions based on range of choices between free and tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, choosing a college or a pathway to a credential is much more than a monetary decision, but money does play a role.

I think we periodically have to ask ourselves what we think we are really trying to measure - experience or behavior.

What do you think?




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