Press Release: Measuring “Intermediate” Success Key to College Degrees

Published sep. 28, 2010

BOSTON, MA (September 28, 2010) — A new report released today by JFF—Taking the Next Step—suggests that the best way to help students succeed in college is to determine intermediate benchmarks toward degree completion and intervene when students don’t reach them. Measures include students’ completion of pre-collegiate or developmental coursework, college-level math or English, and their first 15 or 30 credits.

“Just gathering the data on degree completion and other final outcomes is too little, too late if the ultimate goal is improving outcomes rather than just reporting them,” said Nancy Shulock, the report’s coauthor and director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy.

Taking the Next Step features 11 initiatives across the country that track intermediate measures in order to gauge student progress and outcomes.

The report also establishes definitions for the types of measures, specifically what is a milestone (an achievement that must be met in order to graduate, such as completing college-level math) versus a success indicator (a behavior that suggests a likelihood of success but isn’t strictly required for it, such as completing college-level math within the first two years).

“Tracking milestones can help us understand where students are falling off the pathway to a college degree, and tracking success indicators can point to why they may not be progressing,” said Shulock. “Understanding how these different measures can be used will encourage more institutions and states to use them in their efforts to help more students succeed.”

The programs featured in Taking the Next Step are:

  • Access to Success initiative, managed by the National Association of System Heads and The Education Trust
  • The Achieving the Dream Cross-State Work Group
  • American Association of Community Colleges’ Voluntary Framework of Accountability
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Student Progress and Completion Measures for Grantees
  • California Leadership Alliance for Student Success
  • City University of New York
  • Complete College America
  • National Community College Benchmarking Project
  • Ohio Performance Funding
  • Tennessee Performing Funding
  • Washington State Student Achievement Initiative

JFF’s interest in these type of measures stems from its involvement in Achieving the Dream and our Time to Completion productivity work. The Achieving the Dream Cross-State Work Group has worked to develop a better set of measures to gauge the progression and success for community college students. This group will release a new report later this year that draws on hard data to demonstrate the performance of multiple states on intermediate and final outcome measures.

To download Taking the Next Step, go to

About Achieving the Dream
ATD is a national nonprofit organization that helps more community college students succeed, particularly students of color and low-income students. The organization works on multiple fronts—including efforts on campuses and in research, public engagement and public policy—and emphasizes the use of data to drive change. Launched as an initiative in 2004 with funding provided by Lumina Foundation for Education, ATD is built on the belief that broad institutional change, informed by student achievement data, is critical to significantly improving student success rates.

About Time to Completion
TTC researches and advocates for policies and practices that can lead to more students’ timely college completion. The project is funded by Lumina Foundation for Education and in support of its goal of raising the U.S. degree attainment rate to 60 percent by 2025.


About Jobs for the Future

Jobs for the Future works with our partners to design and drive adoption of education and career pathways leading from college readiness to career advancement for those struggling to succeed in today’s economy.
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