City Colleges of Chicago is celebrating new, higher graduation rates — rates that rival national averages — and defending those gains as real after a report last year found graduation rates were inflated.
Chancellor Juan Salgado said preliminary numbers show the graduation rate at City Colleges is 22.9 percent, up from 14 percent just four years ago.
“These are students that have to manage sometimes the most difficult environmental and home and life situations … and yet they advance. I think it’s a great moment to celebrate,” said Salgado.
But the new graduation numbers come after a Better Government Association investigation last year found City Colleges had improved graduation rates by watering down requirements, sending diplomas to students who had not been enrolled for years, and in some cases double counting graduates.
Salgado said he stands by the new numbers and promised complete transparency around the calculation of the colleges’ graduation rates. “When anyone examines these results, they’ll come to the same conclusion — that our students have achieved at a higher level,” Salgado told reporters Thursday.
Officials said the gains are being driven by STAR scholarship students: higher-performing Chicago Public Schools graduates on full-ride scholarships. The graduation rate for those students was 47 percent, officials said.
The federal government mandates that graduation rates at community colleges take into account only full-time, first-time college students who are seeking certificates or degrees. That’s a small percentage of the more than 80,000 students enrolled in the City Colleges.
For instance, to calculate this year’s 22.9 percent graduation rate, City Colleges said 897 students graduated with some type of associate’s degree or completed a certificate program. That’s out of a total of 3,915 total first-time, full-time students.
Around 62 percent of all City Colleges students are seeking a degree or certificate. More than half attend classes part-time. Salgado said he wants to measure City Colleges’ impact on those students, too — by tracking upward mobility numbers like wage increases.