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Policy and Report Library > Reports > 2008 Performance Measurement Report

Executive Summary

The 2008 Performance Measurement Report[1] represents the commitment on the part of Massachusetts public higher education institutions to provide broad-based accountability to the residents of the Commonwealth. This report also demonstrates the effectiveness of Massachusetts public colleges in meeting their legislatively mandated accountability objectives. Now in its sixth year and prepared annually by the Department of Higher Education, the report provides the Governor, the Legislature and the public with evidence that the state and community colleges in Massachusetts are fulfilling their responsibility to provide accessible, affordable, quality higher education to the students and residents of the Commonwealth, and that they are doing so through the responsible use of taxpayer dollars and other resources.

This report covers a broad array of indicators that measure performance within several core areas: access to higher education; college affordability; student success; and the effective and efficient use of resources. The indicators within each performance area are measured against a variety of benchmarks, including statewide, segmental and institutional comparisons. The report also includes multi-year trend data in order to provide additional context beyond a one-year snapshot of college performance.


All of the state and community colleges engage in multiple collaborative efforts with K-12 education, businesses, civic organizations and other institutions of higher education, both public and private. These collaborations promote many critically important objectives, including developing a seamless system of education, improving access to college for traditionally underserved populations, improving college readiness for all students and developing our current and future workforce, as well as using limited resources efficiently. Each campus report begins with a one-page summary of exemplary collaborative efforts. Following the collaborations section are three pages for each campus that present the 2008 performance indicators and relevant benchmarks.

While year-to-year comparisons provide the foundation of this Performance Measurement Report, the following highlights are based on trend data that provide a longer-term assessment of progress and performance.

I. Access to Higher Education

One of the most important roles of public colleges and universities is to provide access to higher education, which is often limited by inadequate preparation while in high school, poor alignment between secondary and higher education, lack of information on applying to college and inadequate financial aid. Over the last several years, the Department of Higher Education (DHE) has collaborated with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on a number of initiatives to reduce or eliminate these barriers and to help every student in the Commonwealth succeed in post-secondary education. Such initiatives include the development of a School-to-College database and reporting tool, which in 2008 enabled 296 public high schools in Massachusetts to receive individual reports that described the enrollment and performance of their graduates in public higher education. The DHE and DESE also collaborated on a public information campaign to build college aspirations among our underserved student populations, and in FY2009 and beyond, will continue to collaborate on a College and Career Web Portal and early assessment of college readiness while high school students are in the 11th grade. Also, with the support of the Executive Office of Education, the DHE has implemented a new Dual Enrollment Program that provides qualified high school students the opportunity to take college classes at public higher education institutions and thereby earn both college and high school credit. All 28 public higher education institutions enrolling undergraduates are offering Dual Enrollment, which studies show can go a long way towards increasing college readiness and success.

Fall and Minority Enrollment

Census Bureau projections suggest a slowdown, and ultimately a decline, in the number of traditional college-age students in Massachusetts. At the same time, the demand for a college educated workforce is expected to increase, along with an expected increase in the number and percentage of minorities within the overall population. It is therefore imperative that Massachusetts improve student access to higher education by reducing financial barriers, expanding high-need majors, and continuing to build bridges with K-12 education, among other initiatives, to ensure adequate college readiness. Also, given the recent economic downturn, it is critical that Massachusetts support the efforts of unemployed and underemployed adults to pursue additional education and training. Given their open enrollment status, community colleges are uniquely poised to meet increased demands for this type of education.

Fall enrollment numbers measure the number of students who enroll in the state and community colleges each fall. Looking at the numbers over a four-year period, fall 2007 headcount at the state colleges was 45,205, reflecting a 7.5% increase from fall 2003. An early look at the fall 2008 numbers reveals that this upward trend will continue with a nearly 10% increase over fall 2003 enrollment.  

At the community colleges, the 2007 fall enrollment number was 84,703, representing a 3.3% increase from fall 2003.  According to early fall 2008 headcount figures, this upward trend is expected to continue and will jump even more, resulting in an 8.5% increase from fall 2003 to fall 2008.

Undergraduate enrollment of minorities at the state colleges has risen steadily over the past five years.  In fall 2007, the state colleges enrolled almost 300 more minority students than they did in fall 2006, reaching a total minority undergraduate student population of 4,116 or 12.8% of the undergraduate student population. This figure is comparable to the minority representation in the Commonwealth’s population of individuals 18 and over with a high school diploma (13.0%).

Undergraduate enrollment of minorities at the community colleges has also risen steadily over the past five years.  And in fall 2007, the community colleges enrolled 1,300 more minority students than in 2006, reaching a total minority undergraduate student population of 22,474 or 28.9% of the undergraduate student population. This is 12.8 percentage points higher than the representation of minorities (18 years of age or over) in Massachusetts, and underscores the significant role that the community colleges play in providing access to higher education in the Commonwealth. 

Student Transfer Rates

A large number of students transfer from community colleges to the state colleges or University system in Massachusetts, either after earning an associate degree or earlier in their community college program. In fall 2007 alone, 1,807 new transfer students at the state colleges were previously enrolled at a community college, representing an increase of 9.4% percent over the last three years, and a 14.8% increase since fall 2003.

Increased transfer rates suggest greater interest among students in earning a bachelor degree, and growing collaborations between the state and community colleges with regard to articulation agreements, student awareness programs and advising practices. Last year, the Commonwealth Transfer Advisory Group (CTAG) found that while many students are successfully transferring from one institution to another, for many there are significant roadblocks in this process.  In June 2008, the Board of Higher Education accepted the Final Report of the CTAG which put forth a set of goals and recommendations to support a more seamless transfer of students among public higher education institutions, to increase the number of students who transfer successfully, and to improve degree completion among this group. One of the primary recommendations was to create a new MassTransfer Policy, which will integrate and replace current statewide programs into a single policy, thereby simplifying the transfer process and providing a broader population of students with clear pathways to degree completion.

II. Affordability

Broad access to post-secondary education is only possible when students can afford to attend college. For many students in Massachusetts, paying for college requires a combination of family contributions and some form of financial aid, such as student loans. The Board of Higher Education Task Force on Student Financial Aid (October 2006) provided specific recommendations to help alleviate the financial burden faced by many Massachusetts students and their families.

Financial Aid

The Performance Measurement Task Force is currently working on the development of new indicators to provide an accurate assessment of the true cost of college and total unmet financial need. We expect to include these new indicators in the 2009 report. In the meantime, one way we continue to measure affordability is by looking at the percentage of median income required to cover tuition and mandatory fees in Massachusetts.

Tuition and Fees

For state colleges, tuition and fees as a percentage of median income was lower than the Northeast regional average of 9.1 percent for similar institutions. At the community colleges, this number was comparable to the regional average of 4.9 percent for similar institutions.

According to this measure, it may look as if college is affordable for Massachusetts students. However, high median incomes in the Commonwealth, as compared to other parts of the country, obscure the reality that students continue to have significant difficulty affording even public higher education in Massachusetts. This is due to a number of factors, including the high cost of living in the Commonwealth, as well as declining state appropriations for public higher education. Historically, campuses have been forced to raise student fees in the face of declining state support.

III. Student Success

There are many ways to measure student success, with graduation rates being the most traditional measure. Other measures include first-year retention rates, fall-to-spring retention rates, course completion rates, number of degrees conferred, and pass rates on national licensure exams. Given their unique mission and student population, community colleges are also looking into additional student success measures.

State College Graduation Rates

The 2005 State College Task Force on Retention and Graduation set as a goal to increase the six-year graduation rate from 46 percent to 50 percent of students by the year 2010. Until this year, the state colleges have been on track to meet this goal, with the number rising from 45.5% for the 1997 cohort (graduating in 2003) to 48.9% with the 2000 cohort (graduating in 2006). However, the graduation rate for the 2001 cohort fell to 45.9%. Fortunately, this one-year decrease appears to be a blip in an overall positive trend.  Based on preliminary data, the graduation rate for the 2002 cohort, which graduated in 2008, is expected to be over 50%, which would achieve the stated goal. Also, despite the one year decrease, the average graduation rate for the last three cohorts is 47.3%, which compares favorably to institutional peer groups for the state colleges.

Community College Success Measures

The Task Force on Retention and Completion Rates at the Community Colleges (February 2007) recommended the development of a comprehensive set of success indicators and benchmarks that they believe best reflect the broad-based mission of community colleges and the unique population of students they serve. In FY2007 the DHE convened the Performance Measurement Task Force to develop a new measure of community college student success. In FY 2008, DHE continued this work with Performance Measurement Taskforce and in collaboration with the Massachusetts Community College Executive Office. The result was a new comprehensive student success indicator which measures whether students have earned a degree/certificate, transferred to another institution, earned 30 or more credits, or remained enrolled after four, five, and six years.  The goal of this indicator is to demonstrate the varied types of success outcomes that community college students achieve.  The overall four-year success rate for the 2003 cohort is 71.9%, which includes four mutually exclusive categories: earning a degree or certificate (34.4%), transferred to another institution (15.7%), successfully completed 30 credits (20%), and remained enrolled at their original institution (2%). In the FY 2009 Performance Measurement Report, the DHE will report on the five year success rate for this cohort. Overall, this is an improvement over the traditional IPEDS graduation measure that reduces the cohort of students to first-time, full-time degree-seeking students, defines success as graduation from the same institution, and limits the time frame of measurement to 150% of normal time. This new measure aligns with the national discussion on the measurement of community college student success, including a recent dialogue between higher education leaders and the National Center for Education Statistics and the Achieving the Dream Consortium.

First-Year Retention

Researchers agree that the transition from the first to the second year of college is the most critical point in the progression to a degree. In fact, college students in Massachusetts and across the country who drop out prior to graduation are most likely to do so between the first and second year. The 2005 BHE Task Force on Retention and Graduation Rates in the State Colleges set as a goal 80 percent retention of first-year students by 2010. The state colleges were steadily moving toward this goal until last year when the retention rate for the entering 2005 cohort of 73.5% was noticeably lower then the retention rate for the 2004 cohort (76.2%). Fortunately the retention rate for the 2006 cohort is 74.4%, a move in the right direction. The community colleges remain committed to reaching the goal of 80% first year retention by 2010.

For the second consecutive year, the DHE is reporting two different fall-to-fall retention rates for first-year community college students. The first is the traditional rate of return to the student’s original institution. This rate for the entering cohort of fall 2006 is 56.5%, which is 1.2% percentage points higher than the rate of the previous cohort. The second retention rate looks at students who remain in higher education at either their original institution or any other higher education institutions. Because of the community colleges’ unique transfer mission, it is important to track the enrollment of students in higher education after they leave their original institution as a measure of student success. By contracting with the National Student Clearinghouse, the DHE is able to identify how many students entering a community college in a given fall enroll at a different institution the following fall. Approximately 9% of the 2006 cohort enrolled at an institution other than their original in fall 2007.

Degrees and Certificates Conferred

Over the past five years, the state colleges have steadily increased the number of degrees and certificates conferred.  In FY2008 the state colleges conferred 8,679 degrees and certificates, representing an increase of more than 1,000 degrees and certificates since FY2004.  During the same time frame, the community colleges have also increased the number of degrees and certificates they conferred.  In FY2008 the community colleges conferred 10,742 degrees and certificates, representing an increase of more than 800 degrees and certificates since FY2004. 

Pass Rates on National Licensure Exams

The 2007 Pass Rate for the Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure remains high (98 percent) and well above the target rate of 80 percent. And in 2007, 1,221 state college students passed the exam, setting a new high. (This rate is only provided for the state colleges.)

The 2007 community college pass rate for students taking the nursing licensure exam (NCLEX) was 83.4%. Although this rate dipped slightly below the Board approved target of 85%, this is expected this to be a temporary decline.  Impacted colleges have been carefully examining the situation and implementing programs and policies aimed at significantly improving performance.   According to early estimates, the 2008 NCLEX exams will reflect a substantial increase in pass rates for these colleges. Also in 2007, the community colleges reached new highs for both the number of students taking the exam for the first time (1,077), and the number of students passing the exam (898).  The latter is almost 40% higher than the total for first-time test takers passing in 2003.

Through its Nursing Initiative, the DHE is working to increase the numbers of qualified nurses in the Commonwealth, as well as the number of qualified nursing instructors. We are also facing a shortage of qualified K-12 teachers in math and science The DHE administers federal funds for Teacher Quality Initiatives which promote the professional development of K-12 educators in Massachusetts. In addition, programs funded through the DHE STEM Pipeline Fund provide professional development for teachers in math and science.

Other Student Success Measures

The community colleges also measure course completion rates and fall-to-spring retention rates in order to capture the achievements of a broad spectrum of community college students, including those seeking a degree, as well as those with more short term educational goals (e.g. professional development courses). The community colleges have remained relatively stable on these two measures over the last three years.

IV. Fiscal Efficiency and Responsibility

As public institutions, Massachusetts’ state and community colleges are required to be fiscally efficient and responsible. In FY2007, a subgroup of the Performance Measurement Task Force worked to develop a new “fiscal dashboard” for state and community colleges, which the Board approved in November 2007. The dashboard reports on efficiency and innovation (including fundraising), resource allocation, financial health, and fiscal compliance. Each dashboard is unique to the campus and most of the indicators cannot be meaningfully summed to the segmental level.


Since 1998, each state and community college is required to contract with an external audit firm to prepare a comprehensive, annual, audited financial statement. An audit is deemed successful and unqualified when an external auditor can attest that the institution’s financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, an entity’s financial position, results of operations, and cash flows in conformity with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

In FY2008, all of the state and community colleges had unqualified audits with no significant findings.

Private Funds Raised

The ability of an institution to supplement revenue beyond state support and student charges is becoming increasingly important, and the most innovative campuses find ways to supplement state revenue with private funds. Both the state and community college presidents identify strengthened fundraising efforts as a key goal. In FY2008, the state colleges raised a total of $9.7 million, the second highest total in the last seven years, and the community colleges raised $12.1 million, also the second highest total in the last seven years.


[1] Does not include special mission institutions Massachusetts Maritime Academy and Massachusetts College of Art and Design, which prepare their own Performance Measurement Reports.