Those federal ratings that weren't? States are doing them on their own.

Data considered controversial in D.C. is mundane in Austin

Nine months ago, the federal ratings plan was an ambitious project with at least 11 metrics under consideration, proposals to rate two- and four-year institutions separately, and an ultimate goal of linking the ratings somehow to federal financial aid.

The plan was pulled into political purgatory; instead of ratings, the White House released College Scorecards this week. But dozens of states are releasing data similar to what the federal government originally proposed, Jon Marcus writes for the Hechinger Report.

In Texas, government officials hand out flash drives containing what Marcus calls "some of the most sensitive possible statistics about the performance of the state's universities." The information includes extensive details on cost, degrees awarded, and employment outcomes.

At least seven states, including Texas, are all reporting much more detailed statistics on employment outcomes than the College Scorecard—in some cases, by using controversial methods of obtaining data.

For example, Texas relies in part on a process called "student-unit recordkeeping," which Marcus says private colleges have fought at the federal level because they believe it puts them at a disadvantage. Other states use employee records from companies that buy state unemployment insurance. Some states are even pulling data from across borders.

But higher ed leaders have concerns about the quality of the data.

"Academics hate this. University presidents hate this. And to some extent, they're justified, because the data need work," Mark Schneider, former head of the National Center for Education Statistics, told the Hechinger Report.

Other states swap information in data exchanges like the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Ten states share information related to learning outcomes in another partnership.

However, there's been less controversy over publicizing data at the state level than at the federal level. Part of the reason why, Marcus says, is because some states allow colleges to explain hiccups in their statistics—such as noting that a hurricane affecting enrollment one year.

But a bigger reason, he adds, might be simply that states have been in the data game for so much longer than the federal government.

"Many states have been doing this for a decade, and nobody's died," Schneider told the Hechinger Report (Marcus, Hechinger Report, 9/15).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.


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