House panel calls for greater transparency around student data
- A call for greater data transparency via a federal student-level data system on school performance metrics is sifting through the House, though Republicans, like House Education and the Workforce Committee chairwoman Virginia Foxx R-NC, have repeatedly cited concerns over privacy and data security with such a system, reports Inside Higher Ed.
- As one of several amendments submitted to the PROSPER Act, policymakers have proposed that the Secretary of Education develop a plan within two years of the bill's enactment to assess the feasibility of working with the National Student Clearinghouse, in conjunction with the National Center for Education Statistics, to create a "third-party method to collect and produce institution and program-level analysis of data," including, at minimum, enrollment, retention, transfer, completion and post-collegiate earnings.
- Republicans have proposed the third-party handler as a potential solution to greater data transparency on metrics around the reasons behind student transfer and how institutions are trying to close data gaps. Many believe the data collection should happen through a federal agency that has higher standards for publicly available data collection and maintenance.
Advocates of greater data transparency have long argued that greater access to student outcome data would help parents of college-bound students make better decisions on where to send their children to school, particularly as the cost of college continues to rise.
Though critics of data generalization often cite the Obama-era College Scorecard site, which offered rankings for institutions based on outcomes, saying that the system unfairly positioned those schools often taking in low-income, high-risk students — making it more difficult for them to attract wealthier, well-performing students to stay afloat.
Still advocates say data reform is happening no matter. Republican congressman Paul Mitchell (MI), for instance, is one of several policymakers leading the conversation creating more accessible datasets, and in speaking at a Council for Higher Education Accreditation event earlier this year, explaining that upping data transparency is in the works, even if the process is still unclear:
"While there may be differences in some of the nuances of institutions, as an investment for this country these are things that matter: whether students complete, can enter the career field, and can support their family,” said Mitchell. “Institutions may not agree … but they are still going to be participating in it. I am here to express that additional student outcome data that provides more transparency is a priority and is going to happen one way or the other."
But what's unclear about the House proposal is the addition of a third-party data collection option through the National Student Clearinghouse, which Republicans say address some concerns of privacy as the organization doesn't make much of its data publicly available.
However, critics maintain that data collection on student outcomes is the job of the government and would be more properly handled by a federal organization committed to strong standards in collection. Ben Miller, senior director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, has been cited as saying this is simply an example of the government not wanting to take a solid stand on this difficult issue — as a feasibility test of student-level data system happened already in 2005.
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