“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s ‘Answering the Call’ report on postsecondary data sheds important light on the need for much more complete and accurate federal postsecondary performance data. The report also charts a sensible plan of action and viable way forward. APLU thanks the Gates Foundation for its important work in illuminating the serious shortcomings of current federal data.
“Because federal law presently prohibits the collection of student-level outcome data, students and their families lack complete information on graduation rates, employment and earnings of graduates, and other key data when choosing an institution to attend. They deserve better.”
“Surveys of college students consistently show that improving one’s earning potential and employment prospects are both major impetuses for attending college. Lifting the ban on student-level data would allow the federal government to provide aggregate employment outcomes and earnings levels by institution and, importantly, provide the information broken out by academic program as well, accounting for the significant differences among various disciplines. We also need to be able to track employment and earnings figures by program and institution for several years after students leave an institution so prospective students can see alumni’s salary trajectory as they advance in their careers, not just in the year or two following graduation.
“Even as the characteristics of the typical college student have changed radically in recent decades, the federal graduation rate has continued to exclude part-time and transfer students as well as students who return to their studies later in life. The result is a woefully outdated federal graduation rate that fails to accurately represent today’s students and capture their success. Over half of bachelor’s degree recipients attend more than one institution before receiving their diploma, but those students are missing from the federal graduation rate due to the data blackout.
“Incomplete figures also hamper attempts at data-driven institutional improvement. In the absence of congressional action, the higher education community has created its own set of transparency initiatives, like the Student Achievement Measure and Voluntary System of Accountability, to more accurately track student outcomes and institutional performance. Crucially, these initiatives help fill some of the most alarming gaps created by the prohibition on student-level data, but they are voluntary. Only Congress has the authority to eliminate these huge data gaps altogether.
“Today’s Gates Foundation report underscores the urgency of the need for better and more complete postsecondary student data. The need for clear, accurate and complete student-level data is more critical than ever before.”