ERIC Identifier: ED310833
Publication Date: 1989-09-00
Author: Quimbita, Grace
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Student Tracking Systems in Community Colleges. ERIC Digest,
Student tracking systems enable increasing numbers of community colleges to
respond to external demands for accountability with tangible measurements of
student progress and institutional outcomes. Several recent trends have prompted
interest in monitoring student progress throughout college and into their
professional lives. Bers (1989) argues that increasing emphasis on marketing,
accountability, communication with students, and internal competition for
students all serve as catalysts for the development of tracking systems.
MONITORING STUDENT FLOW
Bers identifies six stages in the
student flow process that should be monitored by a student tracking system.
Awareness--In this stage, the prospective student learns about the college
for the first time. Mass mailings to homes or businesses, advertisements in the
media, and public information sessions are useful in making potential students
aware of the college.
Inquiry--Mechanisms for maintaining personalized contact with prospective
students should go into effect as soon as the individual makes the first inquiry
about the college. The individual's name, social security number, and program
interests should now be on record.
Entry--This stage involves formal application, admission, first-time
registration and enrollment, and increasingly, assessment tests, orientations,
Experience--Most tracking efforts currently concentrate on this stage,
gathering information on students as they take courses, fulfill prerequisites,
pass, fail, or withdraw from courses, take advantage of support services, and
work toward their goals.
Completion--At this stage, students leave the college with or without
achieving their educational goals.
Follow-Up--Because community college students commonly stop in and out,
alumni can also be considered an important pool of prospective students.
Maintaining contact with alumni after they have left the college is important in
evaluating educational outcomes in terms of employment or transfer experiences,
and attracting former students back to the college.
Tracking systems can be developed for practically any stage in the student
flow process. Cochise College in Arizona has a tracking system within its
admissions office that monitors the awareness, inquiry and entry stages
(Barrett, 1989). The Los Angeles Community College District in California and
Arapahoe Community College in Colorado each have tracking systems which focus on
basic skills assessment and monitor the entry, experience, and completion stages
(Voorhees and Hart, 1989). Additionally, tracking designs are possible for
underprepared students (Smittle, LaVallee, and Carman, 1989) and other special
groups, such as displaced homemakers, single parents, learning disabled, and
hearing impaired (Gay and Boukouvalas, 1989).
DESIGNING STUDENT TRACKING SYSTEMS
A well designed tracking
system will collect the information needed by the college, store it in a way
that facilitates retrieval, and disseminate the information to the individuals
that need it in the most useful format. Decisions must be made about the
purposes the system is to serve and the way the database is to be organized,
analyzed, and used.
Moreover, from the seemingly endless array of data that are routinely
collected on each student, the designers of the tracking system must select the
relatively small number of variables that deal with student persistence and
outcomes. The AACJC's Student Tracking Model requires the following variables
These data are typically collected
at the entry stage, as part of the admissions and registration processes:
Social Security Number (or other ID#)
Date of birth
Last school or college attended
Highest level of schooling attained
Primary reason for attending this college at this time
Degree goal at this institution
Reading, writing, and math placement scores
These data are verified or collected on a
term-by-term basis throughout the experience stage:
Regularly updated information on Name, Address, Degree Goal,
Reason for Attending, and Declared Major
Number of college-level credits attempted and completed
Number of cumulative credits earned to date
Grade point average for term
Number of remedial credits attempted and earned
These data are collected after the
student leaves the college:
Student's perspective on whether his/her primary educational
objective was attained
Current employment status
Relationship of job to college studies
Hours per week employed
Current college enrollment
Number of credit hours lost in the transfer process
GPA at new institution
Additional data may be collected; however, care must be taken to eliminate
extraneous or unnecessary items. The costs of data entry and analysis, as well
as the requirements of producing a manageable and usable database, dictate
constraints on the number of data elements, and recognition that many outcomes
will not be determined.
The minimum requirements for a computerized system to manage and analyze the
data include the ability to extract and download data elements already available
in college records; ease of modification and expansion; the ability to draw
random samples for special analysis; and the preservation of student
confidentiality (Bragg, 1989).
Palmer (1989) advises colleges of several
potential difficulties in the establishment of student tracking systems.
Data Collection--Many institutional research offices will need to refocus
their efforts from cross-sectional data to longitudinal data. Databases
developed to fulfill state and federal reporting requirements will need to be
expanded or modified. This expansion can begin by gathering existing, but widely
dispersed, longitudinal data from student applications, registration forms,
transcripts, follow-up surveys and other sources.
Amount of Data--Many policy makers do not understand the relationship between
the information desired and the effort needed to collect it. Many community
colleges have no established institutional research office; others have a very
small staff, making them ill-equipped to take on the task of tracking.
Follow-Up Information--Obtaining information after students have left the
college is much more difficult than obtaining information during their
enrollment. Survey response rates of less than 50% of the sample of alumni are
common and detract from the credibility of findings.
Use of Information--The involvement of the entire college is necessary in the
interpretation of data. Coffey and Palmer (1989, p.35) remark that "unless
student goals, performance, and follow-up information can be linked back to the
major or program in which the student is or was enrolled, community college
faculty and program staff cannot use the tracking information to improve their
particular programs or address specific problems."
Legislation and national educational reform
efforts have spurred many community colleges to initiate or expand student
tracking systems. However, obstacles exist at institutional and state levels
that hamper their more widespread development and use. Regardless of these
difficulties, proponents argue that the issue of student tracking systems is
destined to become an integral component of community college management.
Coffey, J. C.; Palmer, J. "Implementing Student
Tracking Systems at Community Colleges." Washington, D.C.: American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, forthcoming 1990.
The other articles cited appeared in USING STUDENT TRACKING SYSTEMS
EFFECTIVELY. New Directions for Community Colleges, Number 66, edited by Trudy
H. Bers. The following were cited:
"Beyond the College: State Policy Impact on Student Tracking Systems," by Ann K. Bragg.
"Computerized Tracking System for Underprepared Students," by Pat Smittle, Michael R. LaVallee, Jr., and William E. Carman.
"Computers and Student Flow/Tracking Systems," by Judith W. Leslie.
"Tracking and Monitoring Students in Special Groups," by Melvin L. Gay and Costas S. Boukouvalas.
"A Tracking Scheme for Basic Skills Intake Assessment," by Richard A. Voorhees and Sharon Hart.
"Tracking Systems and Student Flow," by Trudy H. Bers.
"Trends and Issues: Student Tracking Systems at Community Colleges," by Jim Palmer.