Published on 2012/11/16

Improving Graduation Data Key Going Forward

While there is a great deal of data available when it comes to the higher education sector, one area in which institutions and governments have consistently fallen short is gauging student success.

The federal government’s Integrated postsecondary Education Data System—Ipeds—statistics only tracks first-time, full-time students who remain at one institution, creating significantly skewed results when trying to understand and quantify student success and activity. The National Student Clearinghouse, which collects data from 3,300 colleges and universities, released the findings of their most recent study last week and found that the national completion rate is 54 percent, and that completion rate is significantly lower among part-time students. Moreover, they found that a substantial percentage of students transfer prior to graduating.

However, in spite of the significant lack in official data, national policies related to education are informed by Ipeds, as are institutional accountability measures and performance-based budget allocations.

The Ipeds system was developed in 1990 as part of the Student Right-to-Know Act, but has become severely outdated, Amy Raaf Jones, the senior advisor to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“The data question is going to be a huge one coming up in reauthorization.”

She said that collecting sensible, meaningful information on higher education outcomes is a critical goal for Congress, and its moment might be coming. After all, the Higher Education Act—governing federal student loans among other programs—is going to be up for renewal in 2013.

“We are clearly in need of major improvements in the system,” Spiros Protopsaltis, senior education policy advisor to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions told The Chronicle. “We need to figure out a way to collect better data.”

Among these improvements should be the inclusion of part-time and transfer students in its graduation-rate tallies, a point acknowledged by the Department of Education last April.

There remain a number of holes in student tracking, though. While there are calls from higher education researchers to develop a federal system to track all students, privacy concerns have laid that concept to waste time and again. While some states have developed longitudinal studies to collect this type of data, they cannot track students who transfer across state lines.

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