Though the Higher Learning Commission has recently expressed concern regarding graduation rates at community colleges in West Virginia, New River Community and Technical College has been working to increase graduation rates and decrease student loan default in recent years.
“We’ve initiated programs to help our students reach their educational goals and to explain to them how that student loan debt can affect their future,” said New River Community and Technical College President Dr. L. Marshall Washington. “But the Department of Education’s definition of ‘graduation rate’ doesn’t fit for the majority of community college students.”
The Department of Education defines graduation rates based on first-time degree or certificate seeking students who take classes full time and complete their program of study at a community college within three years.
“New River CTC students are displaced workers and nontraditional students interested in programs that lead to direct employment. They come to us because we have programs like EDET, LPN and paramedic with 100 percent job placement rates. Some students transfer in from other schools. Many work full-time and attend class part-time. Others start at New River CTC with the plan of transferring to a four-year school,” Washington explained.
Because of the varied needs of New River CTC students, the college has initiated two programs at all four campuses to help students complete their program of study in a timely manner. New River CTC’s Office of Student Success and First Year Experience programs assist students in identifying a career path, planning for their classes, learning strategies for studying and provide tutoring. Faculty and staff from New River CTC have also participated in the HLC’s Persistence and Completion Academy, and the new strategies are paying off as graduation rates have increased. In 2011, New River CTC reported 216 graduates compared to more than 350 degrees and certificates awarded in 2016.
New River CTC has also been working successfully to lower their student loan default rate. In 2013 the college launched the Borrow Smart Campaign to educate students on the consequences of taking out student loans and why they should borrow only what they need, not the maximum for which they qualify. In 2011, the college’s borrow default rate was nearly 40 percent, but dropped significantly after launching the campaign. The 2013-14 data showed the rate at or below 25 percent.
The HLC will be asking four-year schools with graduation rates at or below 25 percent and two-year institutions at or below 15 percent to show how they are working to improve. The information will not be used to determine compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation, but will be used to help HLC improve its approaches to working with institutions on these important topics. College Scorecard reported an 11 percent graduation rate for New River CTC.