Nassau Community College needs to do better in helping its students to either graduate or transfer to four-year institutions. That's made clear in a recent report on the school's trending outcomes from Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos.
What the report doesn't make clear, and may even distort, is why the college is doing so poorly. Does the recent decline in results reflect a change in results or a change in data collection methods? Has the turnover and turmoil in the president's office had an effect on these numbers?
Maragos' headline is that NCC's students, within three years of enrolling, achieved a combined graduation and transfer rate of only 23 percent in 2011, down from more than 40 percent from 2004 to 2009. It rebounded to 28 percent in 2012. Such a decline is alarming.
The response by college officials that improved data collection over the past few years may be the reason for the lower figures is not reassuring. Are they implying the results have always been horrible but we never knew it until now?
But the comptroller's conclusion that the poor results are tied to the resignation of longtime NCC President Sean Fanelli in 2010, the rocky and short tenure of his replacement, Donald Astrab, and the current lack of a permanent leader for the college, simply doesn't jibe with the available data.
As NCC's results were tumbling, the graduation and transfer rates at its two most comparable institutions, Suffolk County Community College and Westchester Community College, dipped almost identically. Neither was going through a leadership crisis. Both, however, like NCC, changed their computer system and recording methods during that period.
So why are the results at these three crucial colleges so far below where we'd like them to be? At least partly because as many as 60 percent of the students entering these colleges need remedial courses before they can take classes for college credit. Taking such courses slows down the march toward success and makes college more expensive.
That's a problem that needs to be addressed at the K-12 level.
NCC also has a higher SAT score requirement to be excused from placement tests that force students into remedial courses than other comparable schools, and some four-year colleges. Having to take such courses lowers the likelihood of student success. That requirement must be brought into line, but NCC faculty has opposed such changes.
Another reason for the dip, experts say, may be enrollment by those less qualified for college work during the recession. Such students would likely have left school for the workforce as jobs returned.
In the hunt for solutions, it's most notable that New York City's community colleges didn't see results dip like the suburban schools. One reason may be that CUNY has created and is growing a program that provides far more structure, counseling, tutoring and career services as well as free loans of textbooks. The result has been an almost 60 percent increase in the graduation or transfer rate for participants.
NCC does need a top-drawer new president to provide steady leadership to the 23,000 students. But to garner more success, it needs students who are well-prepared to enter college and who are met with a proven, structured program once they hit campus.