Data Are the Key to Legislation on Completion in Arkansas

Jul 21, 2011 by Molly Ryan

Representative Johnnie Roebuck, vice-chair of the Arkansas House Education Committee and co-chair of the Higher Education Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council, spoke to ECS Post Forum attendees on the influential work of the Arkansas Task Force on Higher Education Retention, Remediation, and Graduation Rates. The task force, created under 2007 Ark. Acts 570 and chaired by Roebuck, was charged with designing and implementing policies to enable Arkansas to meet the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) average percentage of citizens holding bachelor’s degrees by 2015. To reach this goal, Arkansas must graduate 7,098 graduates per year.

Roebuck felt that the “first priority [of the task force] was to identify the current reality with sound data and research.”

Roebuck discussed the task force’s 2008 report Access to Success, which continues to shape Arkansas higher education and remedial reform. The report cited eight core recommendations to guide the state’s attainment goals:

1. Strengthening the Arkansas Education Pipeline
2. Improving Preparation
3. Decreasing Remediation
4. Accessing Financial Aid
5. Increasing Retention and Graduation
6. Enhancing Funding and Governance
7. Addressing Data Needs
8. Supporting Economic Development

Roebuck highlighted the data reporting recommendation as a key to remedial education reform, stressing that Arkansas must have a data system that tracks all students. If state higher education institutions were better equipped to track students who take a few courses but may not intend to obtain a degree, such students could be encouraged to complete a degree. Moreover, current graduation rates do not include students attending two-year institutions that already have one degree and have gone back to college to learn a specific skill; thus these students are not systematically tracked.

Roebuck revealed that the task force was successful because it created a clear “vision [for Arkansas] and set realistic goals for attainment which continue over multiple legislative sessions.” The task force’s work demonstrated the value of a common data set to help lawmakers pinpoint specific problems within the education system. The robust data system continues to be the basis of legislation aimed at improving student outcomes. Representative Roebuck sponsored the following 2011 legislation that incorporates this data-driven approach:

H.B. 2050 uses ACT benchmarks and data on placement to ensure students are ready for college.

H.B. 1772 collects data on transfer rates to study the effect of the statewide articulation agreement on student completion rates.

H.B. 1454 expands requirements for comprehensive higher education report.

An ECS Getting Past Go blog includes additional 2011 Arkansas legislation related to remedial education and shows the state’s ongoing efforts to build upon previous policies and programs.

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