New database tracks Columbia Basin College students after they leave the school

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 16, 2013 

Three of four students who earn an associate degree at Columbia Basin College and transfer to a four-year institution get bachelor's degrees within five years.

That's among the findings in a new database that's providing a clearer glimpse into how some students are faring once they've left the Pasco-based community college.

CBC President Rich Cummins and others said it was hard in the past to get good information on the former students once they left their school.

"It's not perfect, but it's better than we've had," Joe Montgomery, dean for institutional effectiveness, told the CBC board this week.

The new data, called the Mutual Research Transcript Exchange, or MRTE+, also shows more than half of CBC graduates eventually enroll in a baccalaureate program, as well as where they attend.

It's managed by the State Board for Career and Technical Colleges in partnership with an independent contractor.

Cummins told the board that the college previously received information from four-year universities about former CBC students but those reports were sporadic and incomplete.

MRTE+ is a more formal collection of information on the college's graduates from in-state institutions.

Some of the data backs up what college administrators already knew, such as the bulk of its graduates end up attending Washington State University Tri-Cities.

But the college never has had so much specific information broken down for other schools in the state, how soon after graduation CBC's students enroll at a university and how many quarters on average it takes for a CBC graduate to earn a bachelor's degree.

Cummins said the new data will allow the college to improve programs to meet student needs but also correct misperceptions of its ability to educate students. The college's graduation rate is close to 29 percent, but other agencies and organizations often report it as almost half that.

"It's so far wrong it's embarrassing," he said. "We're doing a much better job and not getting credit for it."

The new database isn't perfect or exhaustive. Many students who attend CBC transfer before they earn their associate degree and often go on to a university to earn a bachelor's degree, but they aren't counted in the new data. College officials are still culling through the data because it was just made available earlier this year.

Board member Salvador Mendoza Jr. and Vice Chairwoman Sherry Armijo said the new information will make for great advertising for the college and asked administrators for comparisons to other community colleges.

"Anything that can demonstrate our efficacy," Armijo said.

Cummins said that report is coming, though it won't identify the other colleges because of privacy conditions CBC agreed with to access the data.

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