How should data be used to inform higher education?

How should data be used to inform higher education?

How should data be used to inform higher education? Which data should be used?   These are important questions that EducationCounsel has been exploring through our work in a number of areas.  First, we are working with the Institute of Higher Education Policy and the Postsecondary Data Collaborative (PostsecData), a group of organizations committed to the use of high-quality postsecondary data to improve student outcomes.

DataEarlier this week, PostSecData issued a statement on the release of the new College Scorecard by the U.S. Department of Education. The statement notes it is “Of critical importance, these data disaggregate many new outcomes, including debt and repayment, by low-income and first-generation status to provide information on how our nation’s most vulnerable students fare at individual institutions. Additionally, for the first time, students can see data on earnings of typical students leaving each college and university, informing decisions about college choice and student borrowing.”

In Getting Our House In Order: Transforming the Federal Regulation of Higher Education As America Prepares for the Challenges of Tomorrow, EducationCounsel and its partners discuss how oversight and accountability can be improved by using data thoughtfully. “[S]tudent outcomes, institutional quality, and value should be the principal drivers of the federal accountability regime for higher education. Together, these three pillars allow for an appropriately comprehensive, balanced assessment of institutional performance.”

A recent conversation hosted by the New America Foundation also highlighted leaders who are using data to drive improvement in higher education.  Moderated by Kevin Carey, “America’s Most Innovative College Presidents” discussed the College Scorecard. Panelists included:

  • Jamienne S. Studley, Deputy Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education
  • King Alexander, President, Louisiana State University
  • Cheryl Hyman, Chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago
  • Jamie P. Merisotis, President and CEO, Lumina Foundation
  • Paul Glastris, Editor in Chief, Washington Monthly

The panelists made several important points around using data in higher education. First, the new College Scorecard joins other important measures of accountability, such as the Washington Monthly’s College Guide–developed to fill the need for alternative, meaningful outcomes reporting.  According to Chancellor Hyman, these tools emphasize the importance of data that “holds people accountable for something other than access”.

Panelists also emphasized the need for an institutional culture shift in order for effective data use. This will require leaders to challenge the status quo across institutions so that leaders, faculty, and staff expect and demand data on their students’ outcomes.

Moving forward, panelists discussed uses and limitations of the Scorecard and other sources of data on outcomes in higher education. These included increased accountability at the state level, a significant source of funding for higher education, identifying the best short- and long-term outcome measures for graduates, and questions of usability for all college bound students.

Data is a critical tool in improving access and diversity in colleges and universities. But data alone cannot engage and involve students and their families.  Leaders in higher education must be prepared to have open discussions about the limitations of their programs, pilot promising practices and ask hard questions about their successes.  The addition of the Scorecard and other tools may provide an important starting point for these conversations.

For EdCounsel resources on higher education policy, visit our publications page.

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