Numbers can provide a lot of information on a variety of subjects, from the percentage of students who passed a test to unemployment rates.
However, without proper context numbers can be misleading.
For example, a dramatic increase in the number of people moving to a city to seek employment but are unable to find a job can offset an increase in the number of people who are employed in the city — possibly making the city’s unemployment look problematic, even though many people think the city is a good place to find a job.
A state report issued in June about Ivy Tech Community College’s graduation rates serves as a cautionary example.
The report said that only 4 percent of first-time, full-time students in the Ivy Tech system graduate within two years, and 23 percent earn diplomas within six years. Those numbers were used to conclude that the college was doing a poor job of closing the state’s skilled-worker gap.
On the surface, those seem to be troubling numbers. But, they don’t tell the entire story, especially as they pertain to the Columbus/Franklin region.
The Columbus/Franklin region has an 11 percent graduation rate within two years — nearly three times better than the statewide average.
Also, only 462 — or 11 percent — of the 4,289 students enrolled in the Columbus/Franklin are first-time, full-time students. The rest are taking classes for reasons other than to receive a degree.
The state’s report essentially compares Ivy Tech to traditional four-year colleges, where the bulk of enrollment is first-time, full-time students. That’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.
State officials — some of whom have expressed concerns about providing more funding to Ivy Tech — should keep the comparison problem in mind during budget hearings.
Does this mean that Ivy Tech’s statewide 4 percent graduation rate is acceptable?
No. There is room for improvement.
But assessments of how Ivy Tech is performing compared to other colleges should be based on an accurate comparisons of student populations.