THE ROAD TO COMPLETION
BY STACY COLLETT
or administrators at Harper College in Illinois 10,604 is the magic number—
it’s the college’s share of the 5 million additional community college graduates
President Obama challenged the nation’s two-year career and technical
institutions to contribute to the economy by 2020. (That’s in addition to the
college’s current trajectory of 21,000 credentialed students by 2020.)
Guided by a new strategic plan to improve student
completion and success, the college got off to a strong
start. As of 2012, the administrators had awarded 4,487
degrees and certificates, recording the highest number of
college completers in the institution’s history for two years running. The current figures
put Harper College 2,866 credentials ahead of its annual goal.
Those are impressive numbers. Surprisingly, Harper College President Kenneth
Ender says the feat was not especially difficult. Many of those graduates were three to
nine credits shy of earning a degree and didn’t know it. “We reached out to them and
either brought credits from other institutions back to their transcript, or we got them
back into classes” to help them complete their degrees, Ender says.
Having picked the low-hanging fruit, Ender says the real challenge now is how the
college will sustain that momentum going forward. He is cautiously optimistic.
“It will get harder,” Ender says. “We’ve created some energy around the idea that
access by itself is not enough and that we have to be accountable for students finishing.