Postsecondary Data Collaborative Releases Series of Papers on Improving Infrastructure

May 25, 2016

Bill DeBaun, Program Analyst

Given the $130 billion distributed annually in federal aid, it’s often concerning to NCAN and our members how  many gaps there are in our postsecondary data infrastructure. In the past, NCAN has weighed in on the need for more and better consumer information that students and their families can use to make college-going decisions and most recently joined a letter advising the National Center for Education Statistics on how to collect data on Pell Grant recipients’ completion rates. The drumbeat for filling in our knowledge gaps in this area is increasing steadily in both volume and frequency.

Toward continuing that trend, The PostsecData Collaborative, an initiative created by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) of which NCAN is a member, last week released an 11-paper series titled Envisioning the National Postsecondary Data Infrastructure in the 21st Century. At first glance, 11 papers on postsecondary data infrastructure could be viewed as going a bit overboard, but considering the various facets of this issue, and the numerous approaches policymakers could use to address them, there is plenty to learn and appreciate here without the authors stepping on each other’s topics.

The papers, which were written by staff members from different organizations that are part of the PostsecData Collaborative, cover a broad range of topics from ensuring student data privacy to better measuring labor market outcomes to increasing interstate sharing of postsecondary data to linking existing federal data systems.

While these papers may not have the most profound or direct impact on most NCAN members’ day-to-day practice, their executive summaries, at the least, are worth a read to understand the current postsecondary data environment’s shortcomings and to understand what kinds of concrete steps could be taken to improve what we know about student success. For example, with improved postsecondary data infrastructure we could better answer questions about the completion rates of Pell Grant recipients, understand where underserved students most frequently succeed, and get a better sense of net price. Policymakers and policy influencers at the local, state, national, and federal levels need to understand which critical (and obvious) questions we cannot currently answer well or at all, and NCAN members, especially those engaged in advocacy work or operating at the state level, can make their voices heard.

Over the next few weeks, we will profile a few of the papers from this series on the blog and highlight important implications for NCAN members. Until then, members are encouraged to peruse any or all of the following:



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