Report: To help students succeed, higher ed needs better data

'It's time for a system reboot'

The higher education industry needs to overhaul the way it collects student data to serve the new majority of students, according to a new report funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The push for better data comes as more schools implement data-supported advising systems.

Today, most students are not 18-year-olds attending full time and graduating within four years. Instead, they are low-income, first-generation, transfer, and part-time students. And the massive amount of data currently collected does not adequately track these nontraditional students' success, writes Jennifer Engle, report author and VP for policy research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP).

Expert insight: Why nontraditional student success is more important than ever

"Colleges and universities, and the data systems that support them, must adjust to and reflect the experiences and outcomes of all students, not just the outdated 'traditional' student profile," Engle writes. "It's time for a system reboot," Engle says.

Experts encourage researchers to collect data on completion progress, transfers, student debt repayments, and post-graduation success. That will enable policymakers to see what strategies actually increase student success, according to Dan Greenstein, director of education and postsecondary success at the Gates Foundation. Until then, it's just "poking in the dark," he says.

In the report, Engle suggests implementing new institution measurements. IHEP is currently working with the Gates Foundation to develop this "metrics framework" ("Quick Takes," Inside Higher Ed, 2/3; Field, "The Ticker," Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/3; Camera, U.S. News & World Report, 2/2).

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