Reporting on Student Success – Five Questions with Suzanne Phillips, Institutional Researcher at White Mountains Community College

As part of the CCSNH Strategic Plan, the “65 by 25” initiative was developed: by 2025, New Hampshire is expected to need 65% of adults with education beyond a high school degree, to meet labor market demand. As a component of this initiative, the System is focused on improving community college completion and transfer rates. Suzanne Phillips is an institutional researcher at White Mountains Community College, the northernmost college in the CCSNH system.

suzzaneCommunity colleges can serve a different population than a traditional four year institution. When you were working on your reporting metrics, did you borrow from conventional 4 year metrics or did you come up with your own?

I did something different from either of those. I borrowed from a set of metrics being used in the Community College System in Maryland. They were way out ahead of us on that. Things that they had already adjusted for: Community college students don’t necessarily attend sequential semesters, and they don’t attend full time, semester after semester. They often do not complete a two-year degree within two years. So the metric needed to be flexible.

What are the main metrics related to student success that you focus on and why?

We do focus on graduation rate from our institution. We also focus on students who continue at other schools. This has been a shift of thinking within the community college, because schools are used to thinking about “retention:” maintaining and keeping the student at the school. Some college completion work has started to suggest using “persistence” instead. Students who are persisting through their educational process, whether they are doing that with us or elsewhere, are still successful. And it is a success for us if we have prepared them well enough to do that. We follow the students who do transfer out, and whether they ultimately they get a degree.

We have a third category, which is “Students substantially prepared for transfer”. They haven’t earned a degree, but they have earned at least 30 credits and their GPA is at least a 2.00. We have quite a few students in that category. They have successfully made the transition to college, and they are ready to transfer if they want. We count those among our successes as well.

One of the things that we’re talking about in terms of all of those metrics is how long a timeline we use. The original Maryland Model went out four years. They have been discussing, and so have we here in New Hampshire, the possibility of going out to six years rather than four.

When the initiative first started, did your reporting results validate prior assumptions or were there new discoveries being made?

One that’s very clear for me because the high graduation rate from White Mountains Community College was a big surprise. When we look at the Maryland Model cohort (meaning students who start in the fall, who may be full- or part-time, and who take at least 18 credits in the first two years), half of them graduate within four years. That’s very different from the results that the Maryland Community College System has shared. They tend to graduate maybe 20%. The NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) numbers are around 21.5% of students graduating within SIX years. We are clearly way above average on that metric.

Another surprise for us was the number of students we have transferring in. The Maryland Model specifically focused on students who are beginning their college career. We have a substantial number of students who began elsewhere and have transferred in. We are curious about them as well. We are thinking about folding them into the Model. Prior to doing this work I hadn’t been conscious of that group.


Watch this on-demand video featuring Suzanne Wasileski, Institutional Research at White Mountains Community College, to learn how a community college can bring predictive modeling in-house in order to meet their goals around student success and retention.

How were the outcomes of your research/analysis received by the Chancellor? Did other colleges in the system adopt your approach?

We received positive feedback from the Chancellor as well as our new Interim President at White Mountains. The Interim President liked that it was a simple but specific set of statistics. Rather than just saying our rates are “high” or “low,” with the Maryland Model we produce a pie chart show what the college is doing. That communicated a great deal to him during his first few weeks here. The Chancellor seemed positive about the model, and the Institutional Researchers within the Community College System are talking about whether it would be good to go system-wide.

I know that some of the other colleges in the system have experimented with more complex tracking projects that community colleges in general have been using. These seem to be cumbersome. The Maryland Model has the advantage of being fairly easy to do. There is not much data collection and computation. It is fairly straightforward.

What’s the next analytics-related project you are working on?

We have more to do with this Model. In its original form, the Maryland Model looks separately at students with developmental education needs. I want to do that for us as well. We are also talking about looking at transfer-ins and spring starts in terms of the metrics we’ve talked about here. And we are looking at the time window: whether four years are enough or whether we should go to six. So those are the items in relation to the Maryland Model itself.

The other big project that I have going on right now is supporting our admissions office in terms of recruiting. They’ve asked me for maps of where our current students come from, and I used GIS software to provide a visual representation of where our student body came from geographically.

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