New data framework for higher ed has massive implications

Gates Foundation, IHEP to develop a national metrics framework to factor in today’s “post-traditional” students.

metrics-framework-foundationEducation bigwigs are currently designing a national metrics framework that will allow for the inclusion of data about today’s evolving higher-ed student. But are college and university leaders prepared to step outside of their on-campus analytics comfort zone and into national, standardized guidelines?

It’s easier to understand the new metrics framework in context of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS): IPEDS aims to help institutions track student data, such as time to completion, completion rates, student loan information and types of degrees completed. But much of this data, notes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is collected around the idea of a “traditional” student (starts college in the fall after high school graduation, goes to a four-year on-campus institution, doesn’t transfer, etc.).

The new metrics framework–the brainchild of the Foundation and the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP)–aims to be something akin to IPEDS 2.0: sets of metrics on “post-traditional” students related to student access, progression, completion, cost, post-college outcomes, institutional performance in relation to resources (efficiency), and performance in respect to diverse populations (equity).

A Field-Driven Metrics Framework

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Click for a larger image.

“The metrics published today often only include ‘traditional’ students and ignore the new normal in higher education: ‘post-traditional’ students attending college—or colleges—in new ways en route to their credentials,” writes the report’s author, Dr. Jennifer Engle, senior program officer at The Gates Foundation .

“One example that comes to mind is of my daughter,” said Casey Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project. “She started at one college, transferred to another, and then transferred a third time. For those institutions, not only is she hard to track in terms of completion and progression, but which institution gets credit for her graduation? So far, no one’s been able to figure out how to track these kinds of metrics.”

According to the Foundation’s report on the new metrics framework, there are many other specific questions that must be answered for today’s prospective student and their families; including:

  • How many “post-traditional” students—the low income, first-generation, adult, transfer, and part-time students who make up the new majority on today’s campuses—attend college? Do they reach graduation and how long does it take them?
  • Do the students who don’t graduate transfer to other college and earn credentials, or do they drop out completely?
  • Are students gaining employment in their chosen field after attending college, and how much do they earn?
  • How are graduates using their knowledge and skill to contribute to their communities?

However, though the new metrics framework could prove invaluable to prospective students, are college and university leaders ready and willing to agree to a national, standardized data framework?

(Next page: Changing the data and metrics culture)