Whether it comes on a piece of paper, or arrives in a more up-to-date digital format, most southwest Kansans are familiar with the concept of a report card. Very few of us haven't experienced the commendations or condemnations that come with seeing our performance evaluated or compared with our peers.

That's essentially what Garden City Community College received this year on at least two occasions.

Our recent institutional report cards included the following:

* A leading online Cable News Network publication issued a ranking of U.S. community colleges, placing GCCC among the top two in Kansas and the top 24 in the nation.

* The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program issued a second consecutive listing of community colleges, ranking GCCC among the top 10 percent of community colleges in the country.

The latest recognition came from CNNMoney Magazine, which based our evaluation on student success, while the selection from the Aspen Institute earlier this year was linked to four key criteria in the area of student outcomes.

Student success rate

You may have read a little about the latest honor already, but it's important to note that the ranking from CNNMoney was actually created by two major U.S. research organizations: The American Institutes of Research, based in Washington, D.C.; and Matrix Knowledge Group, which maintains North American headquarters in Rockville, MD.

A deeper look shows that the evaluation was drawn from a pool of 786 institutions in all 50 U.S. states and that it was based on two basic statistics: the percentage of students who transferred to a baccalaureate institution within three years, and the percentage of students who graduated within three years.

The researchers combined the statistics to create a student success rate, and put GCCC at number 24 in the nation, with a rate of 66 percent. The top spot went to the occupational division of East San Gabriel Valley College, in West Covina, Calif., which was rated at 93 percent. The lowest was Catawba Valley Community College, in Hickory, N.C., at just 5 percent.

In Kansas, Independence Community College earned a success rate of 67 percent, the highest, followed directly by GCCC. The success rates at the other 17 Kansas community colleges ranged from 62 to 21 percent, though two were not listed, since the research included only institutions with 200 or more full-time freshmen enrolled.

It is particularly revealing to note that in comparison to community colleges in western Kansas, GCCC's ranking is more than twice as high as two of the others and 24 points higher than the next institution on the list.

In addition, GCCC's student success rate is 25 points higher than the rate for the state's largest community college, and higher than the rates for 15 other Kansas-based learning institutions.

On a national basis, GCCC placed higher than 762 other U.S. colleges.

CNNMoney, which published the report earlier this summer, is located at www.money.cnn.com, and it serves as the online site for Fortune Magazine and Money Magazine. The listing was developed as a way to help American families select which community colleges offer the best options for successful transfer to the university level.

The full article on community college student success rates may be viewed at http://money.cnn.com/2012/06/07/pf/college/community-college/index.htm. The complete list is available at http://money.cnn.com/pf/college/community-colleges/?iid=EL.

Positive outcomes

The previous "report card," which you may have heard more about, was issued in April when the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program ranked the nation's community colleges.

That honor marked the second straight year for GCCC to be included among the top 10 percent, and it was based on a quantitative formula that assessed improvement and performance in the areas of graduation rates, degrees awarded, student retention rates and equity in student outcomes.

GCCC shared the Aspen Institute honor with 119 other top institutions from the 1,200 community colleges serving the nation, including six of the 19 Kansas community colleges.

That awards program was initiated in 2011, when GCCC was named to the first-year list by Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education. The program was created as a follow-up to the White House Summit on Community Colleges.

This year's list of the top 120 community colleges includes institutions in 29 states, ranging from one school each in Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina to a total of eight in Texas and 18 in California.

A few other Kansas institutions joined GCCC for 2012, including Coffeyville, Colby, Hutchinson and Pratt community colleges, as well as Liberal-based Seward County Community College and Area Technical School, and Butler Community College of El Dorado.

Obviously, all of us who serve at GCCC are proud that our institution has earned accolades like these, but we've also received some good grades on the local front. Last year alone, for example, a total of 2,899 individuals enrolled in the classes and programs that GCCC offers, and nearly 1,000 additional men and women registered for the various noncredit learning opportunities available through the college.

Those numbers, we've been told, qualify as some pretty high marks, too.