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A Way Forward (or Out) for USED

by Tod Massa 7. February 2014 16:58

So. Yesterday was the big symposium for proposed Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS). I think there were 18 talking heads speaking for 15 minutes each with about two hours total of questions and occasional answers. The live blog coverage is good enough that I am not going to try and summarize the day here. You can read the Chronicle's coverage here, Ben Miller's (New America Foundation)  here, and the Nick Anderson of the Washington Post here.

You can read the full text of my remarks (of which I only read half yesterday if you watched online) here as a PDF.

As a quick summary, I had four main points of interest:

• Better data, ideally student-level; 

Increased transparency through new metrics and the use of Navigator and the College Scorecard

A small number of ratings that are tied explicitly to federal aid programs, such as Pell grants. 

 Partnership with states' higher education offices.

The entire presentation boiled down to this message: If you can't do what we are doing in Virginia, you should not even be thinking about creating a rating system.

Given that the President has directed USED to create a ratings system, it is likely that one is inevitable. If so, I feel the only thing the federal government should be looking at are the graduation rates in each of the Title IV aid programs at each institution. The primary role of the feds is the provision of Title IV financial aid, so why would it be appropriate to rate any other part of the institution?

If the department were to collect or calculate (under a UR collection) a package of graduation rates comparable to what we have done in Virginia, standards could be developed to exclude participation in the Pell grant program if the difference between graduation rates for non-aided students and Pell students was greater than the standard deviation of the national sample for that size and type of institution. Additional incentives could be provided of some kind, perhaps additional Pell dollars, for institutions that demonstrate three consecutive years of growth in graduation rates of Pell students, or, for increased annual student retention. My strong suggestion is to place the most direct measurement possible on the thing you care about.

Given the current ban on the Department having an IPEDS student unit record system, the lack of Title IV graduation rates in IPEDS, and the fact that some kind of ratings system will be produced this year, this is the way out.

How so? The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS).

The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) is the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) central database for federal student aid.[1] NSLDS receives data from schools, guaranty agencies, the Direct Loan program, and other Department of ED programs. NSLDS Student Access provides a centralized, integrated view of Title IV loans and grants so that recipients of Title IV Aid can access and inquire about their Title IV loans and/or grant data. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Student_Loan_Data_System)

This is the data source for Gainful Employment reporting. If it is good enough for that, then it is certainly good enough for the ratings system - especially since the plan for the College Scorecard was to use these data for wage outcomes of Title IV recipients. Quite simply, the Department could calculate graduation rates of students in Title IV programs and develop respectable ratings without the implication that they are somehow rating "Institutions" across the broad scope of what institutions do. If comparison of institutional performance is must, then it can be done with these ratings.

I think any other rating of institutions by USED is a mistake.


Finally, if anyone still questions why we track community college (or four-year institution) students out 10 years, please look at http://research.schev.edu/?xc4q. These students just keep going...sometimes out to 20 years. 



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