Recently I presented a session at the National College Access Network’s (NCAN) annual conference, Changing the Odds: College Success for All. The meeting brought together college access professionals from across the country to discuss their work to help students enter and succeed in postsecondary education. Throughout my time at the conference, a common theme emerged: the need for better feedback. Many of the participants described their need for clear and consistent information on their students’ eventual enrollment and success in college to evaluate, understand, and improve their own efforts.
This kind of actionable feedback about students’ college and career readiness is critical throughout the education system. In order for our nation to remain economically competitive, we need students to progress from high school to college and careers. Yet too many students lack the skills necessary to immediately succeed in postsecondary education; Complete College America (CCA) reports that nearly 20 percent of students take remedial classes during their first year of college.
To address this challenge, every state is advancing, in some way, a college- and career-readiness agenda. DQC’s publication Using Data to Increase College and Career Readiness: A Primer for State Policymakers notes that “data are critical to informing the development, implementation, and evaluation of these policies.” Some of the most critical pieces of information to inform these efforts are the same data the NCAN college access professionals are demanding: data that tells us if students are actually enrolling and succeeding in college.
How do we provide stakeholders with better feedback about college and career readiness?
1. Start with the questions—and support common metrics: The need for clear, consistent, and comparable data, which I touched on in my recent blog post about high school graduation rates, is true at every part of the educational pipeline. There are several initiatives working to advance the use of common metrics for the most critical questions about student progress and success in postsecondary education. This includes a joint campaign by CCA and the National Governors Association as well as the American Association of Community Colleges’ Voluntary Framework of Accountability.
2. Improve ability to collect the postsecondary data necessary to produce these feedback metrics: Producing metrics about students’ postsecondary progress and success requires the collection and analysis of data from postsecondary institutions. For a quick summary on how student-level postsecondary education data are currently collected and maintained, check out DQC’s factsheet on the Postsecondary Education Data Landscape. There has been increased national and federal attention to the various limitations associated with these strategies, as demonstrated at American Enterprise Institute and New America Foundation’s recent event, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s hearing on this topic, and a bipartisan bill proposing a new way forward. It is likely that this will be a hot topic during the next round of Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization. Whatever the path forward, it will require addressing the stubborn challenges of turf, trust, technical issues, and time discussed in DQC’s recent publication on P–20/workforce data governance.
3. Improve stakeholders’ access to feedback information: In order for data to be useful, they must be easily accessible and tailored to meet stakeholders’ needs. For many stakeholders, it is critical to have feedback on students’ postsecondary success available by high school. Last year, DQC and College Summit hosted a joint event demonstrating the demand for high school feedback from parents, principals, mayors, and district and state leaders. (See related publications from College Summit and Education Sector.) Recent federal policies have accelerated states’ efforts to provide this data: every state receiving State Fiscal Stabilization Funds or an Elementary and Secondary Education Act waiver must publicly report college enrollment and credit accumulation rates by high school. DQC’s summary and 50-state analysis of these high school feedback reports—many of which include rich information beyond the federal requirements—will be updated later this year with DQC’s 2012 survey results.
Producing data, however, is not enough. Too often, members of Team DQC present this information to stakeholders only to discover they have never heard about these reports, let alone accessed and used them. If stakeholders do not know that data exist, it is not possible for them to use the data. My time with the college access professionals at the NCAN conference reinforced this message. Leaders throughout the education system must collaborate to meet that demand. Stakeholders working to increase students’ college readiness, access, and success need data about students’ postsecondary experiences to improve their efforts.