By Chris Powers – Web Editor
A recent nationwide list ranked Grand Rapids Community College among the worst in the country. Out of 670 community colleges, GRCC comes in at number 661.
The list was put together by WalletHub.com, a site that is a modern-day Consumer Reports for services. It used data collected from the annual Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) conducted by the University of Texas at Austin and the National Center for Education Statistics.
Colleges were ranked for affordability, classroom experience, education outcomes and career outcomes. In each area, GRCC was in the bottom third. The list compares 670 of the more than 1,100 member colleges of the American Association of Community Colleges regardless of size and scope. These schools were used because their students participated in the CCSSE survey.
WalletHub’s Jill Gonzalez said the CCSSE data was selected because it uses student feedback to gauge what students’ classroom experience is. She says the survey is able to give an “apples to apples comparison” across the participating schools.
GRCC Dean of Student Success and Retention John Cowles disagrees. He said the survey actually “compares apples to kiwis” when you look past the raw scores.
“The number one school was North Florida Community College, a school with about 1,800 students,” Cowles said. “When you have a small institution like that where faculty and staff really know all of their students, you’re going to have students who are going to feel much better about their experience.”
GRCC Student Alliance President Brandon Sinclair called the report “kind of surprising.” He also recognizes that some difficulties can come by default to a community college.
“It’s kind of discomforting for me as a student to know that there isn’t that good of a job placement …(for students graduating from GRCC) statistically compared to all these other colleges,” Sinclair said.
Lydia Geldhof, 20, has been attending GRCC for three years. In her opinion, if GRCC were to be ranked against other community colleges in a report, it would be “at the top.”
“It’s a good school,” Geldhof said. “I don’t understand why they were so low.”
The list hasn’t changed Geldhof’s mind about her decision to attend GRCC.
“I’m pretty confident about my decision to come here just because I know that my costs later in life aren’t going to be as much as going to a university,” Geldhof said.
Regarding the methodology of the list, Cowles said that the CCSSE data was misused as it violated the survey’s terms of responsible usage. The statement says, in part, “comparisons of survey results from two single institutions serve little constructive purpose and may in fact be wholly inappropriate” and “the use of student engagement survey results for the purpose of ranking community and technical colleges.”
For its part, WalletHub said it was fair game to use the CCSSE data because it wasn’t the only source of information.
“I don’t think it’s responsible to only use that data to compare schools, and that’s why we added some external data (from the National Center for Education Statistics) to that study,” Gonzalez said.
Cowles calls the list unfair because he believes the majority of GRCC students intend to transfer. On the surface, it seems to penalize colleges whose students transfer to four-year institutions rather than graduate because it weighs graduation rates twice that of transfer rates.
Gonzalez said that’s not entirely accurate.
“GRCC has a graduation rate of about 13 percent and about a quarter of people transfer out,” Gonzalez said. “The people who transfer out (to a four-year school) and graduate (from that school) are still counted in the overall graduation rate.”
The study also penalizes colleges for students who take more than three years to graduate or transfer.
“Our average student is part-time, taking maybe one or two classes per semester,” Cowles said.
“I understand it’s popular to want to compare institutions,” Cowles said. “U.S. News and World Report does that and they’ve done it for years, but this is a group that has no educational experience and is all about credit card rates and the best credit cards and bank loans for consumers.”
While they primarily deal with financial decision-making and consumer concerns, they have ranked universities and K-12 systems as well. This is their first community college ranking.
As far as improvements, Geldhof said that GRCC could work on the little things.
“Parking is too expensive, books are too expensive,” Geldhof said. She does not feel any different overall about GRCC, though.
Sinclair said GRCC could work on teaching more “soft skills” to students going into the workforce, like networking, communication, and public speaking.
Cowles understands that there are areas where GRCC needs to improve.
“We’re all about continuous improvement here,” Cowles said.
Kayla Tucker contributed to this article.