Gates Foundation Seeks Better System for Student Outcomes Data

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in a report this week called for a "system reboot" of the metrics used to determine college success, particularly when it comes to metrics involving nontraditional students.

Higher education metrics as they are currently reported often include only traditional students and "ignore the new normal in higher education" that is nontraditional students, according to the report. Moreover, the data that is available cannot answer questions like how many institutions nontraditional students attend, what kind of progress students are making towards completing their education, and how much debt students are incurring and their ability to repay it.

The Gates Foundation examined what institutions and states have done to improve and utilize data on student outcomes and used that information to develop a metrics framework showing how institutions and states are measuring their performance. The framework was created with three core design principles:

  1. Include all institutions and students, not just first-time, full-time students, to better reflect the progress that has been made in expanding postsecondary enrollment;
  2. Count all outcomes for students that "signal the increasing importance of measuring whether students are earning credentials of value, improving their economic and life chances in relation to the increasing costs." Examples include credit accumulation; metrics on transfers and completion; and data on earnings, employment, and learning.
  3. Include cost metrics "in recognition of the growing pressure on colleges to more efficiently allocate resources" to improving student outcomes, particularly considering the public concern surrounding student debt and college affordability.

While the framework does not currently include specific benchmarks for the metrics, research conducted by the foundation revealed significant consensus on measuring institutional performance as it relates to student outcomes. The metrics included in the framework include:

  • Access, including full-year student enrollments disaggregated by additional student characteristics, such as academic preparedness, credential level, and program of study;
  • Progress and completion, with a focus on progression metrics in the first year of school;
  • Cost, including the net price of an institution, cumulative debt incurred at a given institution (including private loans), and a measure of students’ unmet need or ability to pay after factoring in grant aid; and
  • Post-college outcomes, including data on earning and employment, loan repayment, and learning outcomes.

The foundation has partnered with the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) to develop the framework and IHEP is expected to release a paper in the coming months with more detailed recommendations for defining the metrics in the framework.

In an effort to improve and strengthen state and national data systems for higher education, the foundation has also convened a coalition of organizations to create a blueprint for improving the national data infrastructure, including upgrading current systems and reinforcing the links between them.

The Gates Foundation’s stated goal "is a national data strategy that clearly articulates the purposes, use cases, and users of each system; supports the connections between them to increase coverage and quality while reducing duplication and burden; and ensures data privacy and security."

"Better data alone will not guarantee better student outcomes, but a lack of better data will guarantee that our efforts to improve those outcomes will fall short of their potential," the foundation stated in the report.


Publication Date: 2/4/2016

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