WASHINGTON, DC - A new report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) and EducationCounsel highlights the imperative for postsecondary accreditors to use data to inform their review efforts, evaluate their institutions' progress, and ensure that the institutions they oversee are providing equitable opportunities for all students. The report illustrates model practices and highlights actionable steps for accreditors to strengthen their data-use to ensure that their institutions are promoting student success and serving students equitably.
"Accreditors have a responsibility to ensure that their institutions and programs are promoting strong, equitable outcomes for all students and particularly those who have historically been underserved in higher education," said IHEP President, Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D. "Our new recommendations show a path forward for accreditors to strengthen their data collection policies in a way that will make equity a real and meaningful priority."
The new report, titled Informing Improvement: Recommendations for Enhancing Accreditor Data-Use to Promote Student Success and Equity, was informed by insights shared during a convening of national, regional, and programmatic accreditation agencies, and individual interviews with accreditors. The report profiles several promising data-use practices among accreditors and recognizes the role of federal policymakers in supporting accreditors by improving the availability of accurate and timely outcomes data, including graduation rates, employment rates, employment outcomes, and other data on student access, persistence, and success.
"We know that the vast majority of accreditors are committed to meaningfully supporting both their institutions and the students who rely on their institutional oversight, but, given the diversity of institutions and the students they serve, this process can be challenging," said Debra Humphreys, Ph.D., Vice President of Strategic Engagement at the Lumina Foundation. "Incorporating outcomes-focused data-use into all policies and practices will help spur equity-minded institutional improvement efforts in ways that prioritize the success of all students."
The report puts forth three key recommendations as opportunities for accreditors to build upon and strengthen their data-use practices to promote student success:
- Embed data-use into routine practice: Accreditors should use data to explicitly inform their focus and conclusions by routinely leveraging existing federal data sources and, when necessary, requiring reporting of additional quantitative student outcome data directly from their institutions.;
- Emphasize equity: Accreditors should make equity a higher priority by requiring disaggregation of quantitative outcome metrics by at least race/ethnicity and income; and
- Increase transparency about data-use practices: Accreditors should build on the progress established in the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions' graduation rate report and increase the transparency to the public regarding how they collect and use data in their review processes.
"With primary responsibility for assuring quality and continuous institutional improvement, accreditors hold enormous power to improve student success - especially for low-income students and students of color," said IHEP Vice President of Policy Research, Mamie Voight. "Accreditors should rely on outcomes data to drive conversations around continuous improvement with colleges, universities, and programs."
The new report builds on IHEP's longstanding history of advocating for improved data-use to promote student success. Currently, IHEP leads the Postsecondary Data Collaborative, an initiative to advocate for the use of high-quality postsecondary data to promote educational equity, evaluate and inform federal, state, and institutional policies, and empower college choices.
EducationCounsel has been involved in the research, policy, and practice for accreditation for several years. This includes historical representation of accreditors during review before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, work with policymakers on improving federal accreditation provisions, and the publication of a proposed policy framework to improve the nation's accreditation regime titled, "A Framework for Focusing the Federal Role in Improving Quality and Accountability for Institutions of Higher Education through Accreditation."