Yes, A Federal Postsecondary Student-Level Data Network is Possible. Here’s How.
High-quality postsecondary data is essential for understanding student outcomes and identifying inequities within our higher education system. Accurate and complete data can empower college choices, promote student success, and inform federal, state, and institutional policies. Yet our existing postsecondary data are disconnected, duplicative, and incomplete. A federal postsecondary student-level data network (SLDN) can change that.
Mid-2016, IHEP began exploring pathways for strengthening our postsecondary data infrastructure. An expert advisory committee helped us tackle critical questions about the design, development, and maintenance of postsecondary data systems.
The new policy brief released today, A Blueprint for Better Information: Recommendations for a Federal Postsecondary Student-Level Data Network, outlines the necessary considerations for creating a network that secures data, protects student privacy, and provides students, institutions, and policymakers, with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. Creating a federal SLDN would streamline the way institutions report data to the federal government, while increasing the quality and usability of the resulting information for all stakeholders.
The policy brief details the technical, governance, and capacity requirements for an SLDN within three key categories: Operations & Capacity, Data Governance, and Privacy & Security. It also answers basic questions about what a federal SLDN would look like, where it would operate, who would submit data, who would have access to the data, and who would govern the overall system.
Federal policymakers are increasingly recognizing that improving our national postsecondary data infrastructure is necessary to effectively steward taxpayer-funded investments in higher education and drive evidence-based policymaking. A Blueprint for Better Information urges policymakers to enact legislation authorizing the creation of an SLDN because, ultimately, equity will remain elusive until useful information is in the hands of decision-makers.
to read the full report.
Newly Released Federal Student Outcomes Data Show More Detail, Provide Better Information, and Increase Transparency in Higher Education
New publicly available data on student outcomes, collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), tell a more nuanced story and do a better job of counting all students than in years past.
Data from the new Outcome Measures (OM) survey go beyond the traditional first-time, full-time (FTFT) cohort of the Graduation Rates (GR) survey, and the latest GR data are further disaggregated by whether students received a federal Pell Grant—a widely used proxy for low-income status. Both sets of new data are now fully incorporated into NCES' IPEDS Data Center and College Navigator, allowing PostsecData and the public the opportunity to explore student outcomes nationwide in more detail than ever before.
This first set of Outcome Measures data includes six- and eight-year completion rates for four discrete groups of students:
- First-time, full-time
- First-time, part-time
- Non-first-time, full-time
- Non-first-time, part-time
By contrast, the GR survey only tracks the first group—students who are enrolling in college for the first time and attending college full-time. Counting the outcomes of all students can make a big difference. As Figure 1 illustrates, 59.2 percent of "traditional" FTFT bachelor's degree-seeking students earned a bachelor's degree within 150 percent of "normal time" (six years). That number increased to 61.6 percent within 200 percent (eight years). However, the OM data—which include non-bachelor's degree-seeking students and count any credential a student earns, not just a bachelor's degree—show how completion outcomes at the six- and eight-year marks vary for non-first-time and part-time students. The 150 percent graduation rate and six-year outcome measures for FTFT students are fairly similar. The same can be said for 200 percent graduation rates and eight-year outcomes for FTFT students. However, outcomes are not as good for first-time, part-time students, with only 20.3 percent earning a credential within eight years. Among the non-first-time cohorts—students who either transferred directly from another institution or returned to college after a hiatus—full-time students' outcomes are comparable to their first-time peers, while more than 40 percent of part-time transfer students completed within eight years.
The fact that OM measures at the six- and eight-year marks, instead of measuring against "normal time" according to credential sought, also means that two-year colleges now have a six-year benchmark as well. Though this is not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison to what a 300 percent metric might look like in GR, it does produce interesting results: While less than 13 percent of FTFT students at a single two-year college earn a two-year credential within 200 percent of "normal time" according to GR (i.e., within four years), 36.5 percent of FTFT students at the same two-year college earned a credential within six years according to OM (see Figure 2).
Finally, the addition of a Pell Grant recipient sub-cohort to the GR data helps to illuminate socioeconomic inequities in higher education. This new release shows why Pell recipient data are so vital to examining how well colleges serve low-income students. As Figure 3 indicates, graduation rates differ between the neediest Pell recipients (41.2 percent), students who do not receive a Pell Grant but do receive a subsidized Stafford Loan (59.6 percent), and students who do not demonstrate enough financial need to participate in either of these federal aid programs (55.4 percent).
All of these new insights support the need for better postsecondary data, in order to help institutions and policymakers identify and address gaps in student success among different types of students, and to help students and families make informed decisions about which colleges to attend and support. However, these data cannot answer questions like:
- Are there racial/ethnic or gender gaps in transfer rates or completion outcomes for part-time and transfer students?
- What type of institutions to students transfer to?
- Do students complete credentials after they transfer?
A federal student-level data network could produce the metrics to answer these and other critical policy questions. On October 18, IHEP will be releasing A Blueprint for Better Information: Recommendations for a Federal Postsecondary Student-Level Data Network. This report details the technical, operational, and governance considerations for creating a secure, privacy-protected student-level data network.
Letter to Secretary DeVos Urges Education Department to Protect Federal Regulations Related to Privacy, Equity, and Transparency
Late last month, 24 PostsecData members and partners sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as public comment on the Education Department's review of existing federal regulations.
The Department of Education (ED) was tasked with establishing a Regulatory Review Task Force under Executive Order 13777 this past January, the goal of which would be to establish which regulations should be modified, repealed, or replaced. With a focus on how federal regulations contribute to better postsecondary data, the Postsecondary Data Collaborative made a statement on the value of consumer information and civil rights in higher education, sending a clear message to ED and providing targeted input on specific items in need of protection throughout the review process.
The letter acknowledges the value of streamlining some regulations but goes on to point out the vital importance of many others. PostsecData identified key provisions governing the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, and outlined the benefits that publicly available data provide consumers in the higher education marketplace. With the recognition that these data are imperfect, they nevertheless remain the most comprehensive source of information available for students and other consumers, barring the creation of a student-level data network.
The letter further highlights the value of regulations that protect student privacy while still providing transparency for taxpayers, and expresses support for regulations that require data collections to demonstrate compliance with anti-discrimination laws. These regulations and the data they make available are invaluable to informed decision-making for students, and crucial for policymakers to see that the higher education system in the United States works for all Americans.
to read the full letter.