Harford Community College, challenged in recent years by uneven enrollment and continuing financial pressures that have forced repeated tuition increases, has been commended by the state for improving the number of its students earning a degree before transferring.
The Maryland Higher Education Commission has praised the college for its 25.3 percent improvement in the number of transfer degrees awarded, a key benchmark the state agency uses to measure the school's success.
"The results of the 2017 Performance Accountability Report reflect Harford Community College's intentional focus on the completion agenda," Dr. Dianna G. Phillips, Harford Community College president, said in a statement Thursday. "The 25.3% increase in the transfer awards is a reflection of our deliberate emphasis on this initiative."
From Fiscal Year 2012 to Fiscal Year 2015, according to the college's annual report to the state, the number of students transferring from HCC with a degree increased from 573 to 718.
In addition to the gains in student transfers with degrees, HCC also was praised for its performance in its enrollment in continuing education workforce course and its successful-persister rate after four years.
The report identifies a successful-persister "as a first-time, fall entering student attempting 18 or more credit hours during their first two years who graduated, transferred, or earned at least 30 credits with a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher within four years after entry."
The report noted that HCC's best performance in this area was among those required to complete developmental courses, a group whose increase in persistence was 4.5 percent.
The college also did well with its continuing education programs where it has increases of 20 percent among newcomers, with its 20 percent unnduplicated head count, and a 28.4 percent increase in its annual enrollment in continuing education courses.
Those are just three key areas where the college must report annually to the state in an assessment known as the Maryland Higher Education Commission Performance Accountability Report.
"The accountability indicators, the format for the report, and the formulas for the data reporting are specifically prescribed by MHEC for this report," according to the president's recommendation attached to the report presented to the college's trustees Tuesday evening.
Richard Norling, president of the Board of Trustees for Harford Community College, said during Tuesday night's meeting that the state's request for specific information to be presented a certain way made comparisons of how HCC performed in certain areas with other community colleges around the state much easier.
Some areas noted in the report that need to be improved, most notably enrollment, were overshadowed by the good news.
"[The report] documents the steady decline in Harford Community College's total unduplicated headcount for both credit and continuing education students," the report says. "This trend is impacting community colleges across the state."
The trustees unanimously approved the report, clearing the way for it to be sent off to the state agency.
Another area the state agency pointed out for improvement at the college was in its fall-to-fall retention rates, particularly among those required to take developmental courses.
"Although fall-to-fall retention for developmental students has remained steady since the last report at 53.6 percent, it is 15.6 percent below that of college-ready students," according to the report.
Developmental students are those identified with deficiencies and special needs in particular areas.
The annual report seeks data in six areas with benchmarks set for five of them. The one without benchmarks is student characteristics, which includes the type of students, whether they are age 25 or older, financial aid received, whether they work 20 or more hours per week, ethnic background and wage growth.
Wage growth could be a key marketing factor for HCC. While the median income reported three years after a student graduates from HCC has dipped slightly — from $44,738 in FY 2013 to $42,553 in FY 2016 — comparisons to student wages a year before they graduated show huge gains, and the value of a college education at HCC.
In FY 2013, those a year away from graduation earned a median of $14,565 compared to those in the workforce the same year earning $44,738 annually. In FY 2016, those a year before their scheduled graduation were earning a median income of $14,177 compared to $42,553.
The other five areas with goals and benchmarks are: quality and effectiveness, access, affordability and completion, diversity, innovation and economic growth and vitality.
In economic growth and vitality, the college scored well in graduate satisfaction and the number of students enrolled in continuing education courses related to their profession. Of particular note was the 100 percent satisfaction rate among employers with contract training programs at the school.
In innovation, the college is on track to surpass its state-set benchmark of 9,500 students enrolled in online classes by FY 2020 with 9,011 in FY 2016.