A key priority for Pierce College, a community college in Washington state that serves more than 20,000 students at two campuses (as well as online and at a local military base), was bettering its college completion rates. Ben Gose writes about this initiative in the October 6, 2017, issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.


The school took the plunge and allowed every instructor to see dashboards showing comparative course completion rates for every course and every instructor: data on performance of black and Hispanic students, women and men, first-generation college students, and Pell Grant recipients.

Later the school added dozens of additional dashboards — for example, one that shows how students perform in subsequent courses — as a way to identify teachers who are helping their students succeed rather than (perhaps) simply inflating grades.

One example of how faculty used the data to change practices was offered by Melonie Rasmussen, a math professor who discovered in the data from her classes that many students were working and raising families on low incomes. Surveying students to learn more about their study and homework habits, she found that some were staying up past midnight to complete homework after their children were in bed. As a result, she began giving students more time to complete assignments.

The increased access to class data seems to be helping Pierce achieve its goal of improving completion rates. The number of students earning an associate degree or certificate within three years rose from fewer than 19 percent in 2010, when the dashboards were first used, to more than 31 percent in 2016.

How can theological schools, especially schools where enrollment, faculty, and course offerings are all smaller than they are at Pierce, benefit from similar strategies? One answer might be to encourage more gathering and sharing of data.

Do your faculty members know how their grading practices compare to those of their colleagues? Do they know how their students do in subsequent courses, or after graduation? Do they understand their students’ stresses and concerns outside of class? For example, how many are raising families, how many are working full- or part-time while in school, how many are the first in their family to go to college or graduate school, and how much debt are they incurring to pay for this degree?

Boards, administrators, faculty, and students may all benefit from a closer look at student data.

If you are subscribed to the Chronicle of Higher Education, you can read more about how Pierce is using student data in the October 6, 2017, issue.