Case Study: Validating the Worth of a Community College Education

The College: Front Range Community College, Colorado
The Challenge:   To evaluate the effectiveness of the general education program
The Solution: Mandatory CAAP testing for all students before graduation
The Results: Evidence that the college provides a quality education, for accreditation and to enhance public image

Front Range Community College (FRCC) serves more than 28,000 students at three campuses in north central Colorado. An accreditation visit in the late 1990s suggested that the institution strengthen its assessment plan.

FRCC needed an assessment tool to verify for the accreditation team the strength of its general education program. The school also wanted a way to evaluate the program to show students, the state government and taxpayers the value of an FRCC education.

In 1999, FRCC chose ACT's Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) as a mandatory test for all of its graduates. The scores are not recorded on students' transcripts and do not count toward students' grades. However, aggregate scores are used as one measure of the general education program and to ensure that students at each campus receive the same quality of education.

"Our CAAP scores are consistent across our campuses," said Laura Jensen, a research analyst for FRCC.

The college's CAAP scores have never been significantly lower than the national results since 1999, and in most cases are significantly higher. This has allowed the college to use the scores to encourage the faculty, the students and the community.

Using CAAP helps guide decision making at the college regarding general education.

"We are definitely validating our general education program with it," Jensen said. "We haven't had to implement a lot of change because of CAAP, because it's showing that we are strong in our general education program."

Jensen says that it's a huge boost for the faculty to know that students continue to show improvement on a yearly basis.

"To be able to show that despite severe budget cuts in Colorado's higher education funding over the last several years, we're still having success. It shows the value of what students and taxpayers are getting," Jensen said.

Because Colorado requires all high school juniors to take the ACT, FRCC recently began using the ACT/CAAP linkage reporting service to document the academic achievement gains of its students. In the first year, "we look great!" Jensen said.

Students showed higher-than-expected gains by 18 percent in reading, 12 percent in writing, 14 percent in math and 11 percent in science—3 to 9 percent higher than the national results. FRCC believes the data could be an important piece of information for performance reporting in the state.

"With the CAAP results, we are able to show our stakeholder groups, our students, our taxpayers, our businesses, our parents and the communities that we serve what they're getting for the investment that they're putting into community colleges, particularly Front Range Community College."

– Laura Jensen, Research Analyst, Front Range Community College