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Inside APLU: Is There a Silver Lining to a Proposed College Ratings System?

How the Student Achievement Measure Shows a More Complete Picture of Outcomes

By Christine Keller, Associate Vice President, Academic Affairs, and Executive Director, Voluntary System of Accountability, and Teri Lyn Hinds, Director of Research Policy Analysis, and Associate Director, Voluntary System of Accountability

April 2, 2014—For all its controversy, President Obama’s proposed college rating system and the ensuing debate have done a favor for the higher education community by shining a bright light on the inadequacies of the data currently collected by the federal government in describing the outcomes of today’s college students. The current federal data collections focus in large part on the “traditional” college student—a student who enrolls full-time, directly from high school and starts and finishes at the same institution. That description fits only about a third of the students currently enrolled within the postsecondary education system.

APLU’s proposed alternative to the rating system provides a concrete solution to the need for more realistic student progress and completion data and it is available to institutions now – the Student Achievement Measure (SAM). SAM reports the outcomes for students who attend multiple institutions, as well as those who transfer-in and transfer-out. SAM also includes those students still enrolled and working toward a degree or credential. SAM is a joint initiative of six national higher education presidential associations and is open to all types of institutions.

More than 420 colleges and universities have already committed to participating in SAM. Across these initial participants, SAM accounts for the outcomes of 3.3 million more students than the federal graduate rate. Early adopters include systems such as SUNY, University of Wisconsin, California State University, and the University of Hawai’i. Substantial numbers of institutions in Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, and Texas have also joined.

APLU and several partner associations are focusing our advocacy efforts to petition the Obama Administration and the Department of Education to allow institutions to use SAM in place of the federal graduation rate in federal reporting tools such as the College Scorecard. Substantial participation in SAM and collective action by institutions, system, and other organizations are essential for these efforts to be effective.

If your institution or system has not yet joined SAM, explore the SAM website or contact a member of theSAM staff. Organizations are also invited to publicly support SAM through our endorsement program. Nine prominent national higher education organizations have formally endorsed SAM. The more institutions and organizations that support SAM, the more effective our advocacy efforts can be!

The Student Achievement Measure is a joint initiative of six national higher education presidential associations: the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the American Council on Education (ACE), the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU). Funding for the SAM Project is provided in large part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Additional funding for the SAM project is provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, APLU and AASCU.

  • Access & Diversity

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