Post Secondary Data Problems: Analysis And Solutions

The million-dollar question facing all higher education constituencies involves the concept of “value:” Which institutions provide it to which students in what quantities? Although existing data serve as important signals in the higher education marketplace, they do not adequately address the myriad concerns of the postsecondary community. For students, better data are needed to inform college choice and decision-making; for institutional leaders, better data are needed to improve programs and services; and for policymakers, better data are needed to drive funding decisions.

Through its work with the “Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery” (RADD) project, the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) released today a new report, Mapping the Postsecondary Data Domain: Problems and Possibilities, outlining how existing national data sets can be amended, added to, or linked together. In an attempt to fill the gaps in our data infrastructure, the paper reviews recent efforts in the field to identify a common set of measures aimed at answering key questions, such as:

  • Which students have access to which colleges?
  • How many—and which—students complete college?
  • How much does college cost, and how do students pay?
  • What outcomes do students experience after college in the workplace and society?

The paper, along with its accompanying technical report, then maps these measures against current data systems like the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the National Student Loan Data System, and moves forward with identifying gaps in knowledge about postsecondary institutions, and proposing improvements that would fill those gaps. Recommendations include details that could inform the development of the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS), complementing IHEP’s written comments on the PIRS that were submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in January 2014.*

“Our current postsecondary data systems were not designed with today’s needs in mind. They have many limitations, leaving them unable to answer core questions facing students, policymakers, or, even more, colleges and universities,” said IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D. “We can no longer afford to leave vital questions unanswered.”

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