Symposium on Proposed College Ratings System: USDOE Needs More Data!

Dear Commons Community,

Last week at the one-day symposium held by the USDOE on its planned rollout of its controversial college ratings system, the only agreement by the participants was that more data was needed.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“If any consensus arose last week at the Education Department’s daylong symposium on the technical challenges facing the Obama administration’s college-ratings system, it was on the need for better data about colleges and universities.

Tod R. Massa captured the sentiment in the opening line of his presentation: “To the department, I say this: We need better data. Let me rephrase that: You need better data.”

Mr. Massa, who directs policy research and data warehousing for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, echoed other data experts when he highlighted the gaps in data the department collects through its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or Ipeds.

In some of the most important measures of college accountability—graduation rates, net prices, postgraduate wages, and community-college outcomes—the Ipeds data fall short, the experts said.

Several experts who spoke at the symposium, including Mr. Massa, said a unit-record data system that could track every student’s progress was the best solution to the bad-data problem. Alas, such a system is currently prohibited by law.

Without getting too deep into the weeds of the IPEDS data, it is woefully inadequate in tracking students especially those who transfer from one school to another.  As an example, a case can be made that a student who attends a community college who transfers to a four-year college should be treated differently than a student who transfers to another community college.  One could argue that in the first situation, the community college fulfilled an important education goal/outcome by providing access to a four-year degree.  IPEDS does track nor differentiate this type of transfer yet many students follow this path to a college education.

The USDOE under Arne Duncan has been quick to rush policies through without careful vetting.  The college ratings system is setting up to be another such case.


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