Data used for cuts may be flawed

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“They say numbers do not lie. The problem is, numbers can lie. And then when you go to interpret them, they can lie even more.” – Ken Muller

Professor Gail Stockin and a number of her colleagues are not calling anyone liars at this point, but they insist college administrators are using faulty numbers to make decisions about programs to eliminate. Administrators say otherwise, claiming their data is not wrong.

Vice President of Human Resources Dr. Albert Roman said the criteria was created to identify programs the district could look to potential personnel reductions.

“The criteria was quantitative in nature in that we had a scoring for various aspects of programs,” said Roman. “But what I also mentioned at the board meeting was that there was going to be a qualitative aspect to it and that means there might be programs that do not score well quantitatively, but they have a lot of value to students.”

Stockin, professor of business management, said data from the district shows completion rates being low in programs such as accounting, nursing, web design, administration of justice and ESL.

Vice President of Academic Affairs Kathy Tyner said she and Stockin have had a number of meetings during the last few months about completion rates in several programs. Stockin was told her program might be cut because the district’s measuring criteria show it has a low number of “successful” students. She said the college was only counting students who earned certificates as successful. Stockin said they are many students who successfully pass all the courses with C grades or higher who do not apply for certificates, which is their choice. That does not mean they have not been successful, she said.

Stockin decided to take matters into her own hands by collecting data of the students who had completed the courses with at least a C or above. Her conclusion is that the program is effective and serves students well.

SWC has used a software program called Datatel to determine success rates. Stockin said Datatel should be replaced or updated so counting problems do not continue happening.

Professors Kathleen Lopez, Maria E. Martinez and Tom Luibel have joined up with Stockin in their efforts to demonstrate that their programs are generating successful students. Numbers the professors had generated are inconsistent with Datatel figures. When they first presented their data in a meeting with administrators, the professors were told their findings were wrong. Undeterred, they insist their data is correct because they have been counting their students personally.

“What we were showing was (perhaps a) small portion that was queried was correct, but what we’re showing is there’s a huge chunk that is missing,” said Stockin.

Stockin expressed great concern about conflicting data because it seems to show that the college is underperforming. There could be a number of consequences if accreditors see it, she said, such as a reduction in state funding.

SWC offers more than 250 programs, far more than most community colleges. Every year faculty reviews programs offered at SWC for accreditation purposes.

Tyner said academic program review dictates that programs should be reviewed every five years. Programs judged as unsuccessful are reviewed by the district and the Academic Senate. There is a five-step process for removal of programs spelled out in the Program and Course Approval Handbook.

“Now, I can tell you that the data that I provided and that (Stockin) is referring to is essentially the best data we have,” said Tyner. “In other words, essentially it is looking at student records.”

Tyner said she and Stockin have different data because they obtained it different ways. She also said she understands professors’ concerns about some students not being counted. She agreed that the problem arises from students not applying for certificates, as the state encourages.

Degree Audit, a new enrollment management program, is scheduled to go online at SWC in 2014. Tyner said she is hopeful it will solve the problem of students being counted only for receiving certificates rather than taking and completing courses.

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