While I have recently bemoaned the lack of public national data on critical student outcomes, Complete College America is actually doing something about it. They are (brace yourselves) collecting and using unprecedented amounts of data to help answer questions about how students are doing and where they are getting stuck. In less than two years, this new, small, and feisty group of go-getters has managed to get 33 states to provide unprecedented, comparable amounts of information about their students’ progress and outcomes.
By providing far more information than has been previously available, CCA makes the powerful, painful case that current data systems are failing–failing states, institutions, parents, taxpayers, and–most importantly–students. We currently don’t capture and/or identify huge student populations in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), including part-time, Pell, and those unprepared for college-level work. In an age of decreasing resources and increasing demand for more, better, college graduates, “flying blind” is a luxury we can’t afford. I am not saying CCA’s metrics or methodology are perfect (in my magical queendom, we would also collect workforce, transfer, and learning outcomes, we would better account for the non-linear trajectory of many students, and we would capture information on all institutions, not just publics) but CCA painstakingly demonstrates that that we not only need—but that we should and can—have better data.
I hope that the federal and state policy makers are listening to this increasingly-intense refrain. During the most recent meeting of the federal advisory committee (required by Congress during the last reauthorization of the Higher Ed Act) whose role is to advise the Department of Education on measuring student success at community colleges, the group strongly advocated for national-level student data collection (more in another post about what this could look like). I hope folks are listening—more important, I hope they can take a page from Complete College America’s book—and start doing.