As Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion research (DEI) becomes an increasingly prominent field in higher education, the need for central hubs at which DEI information can be accessed has become increasingly strong. In an attempt to address this need, the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) announced Tuesday the creation of a DEI research platform to host their own work and that of others using their data.
Sponsored by the Cognizant Foundation, the initiative aims to leverage the data from the NSC’s network of over 3600 post-secondary to institutions to “allow the education and workforce communities, and other third parties, to access Clearinghouse research and specific projects and initiatives focused on influencing positive societal change.”
“It’s a great initiative,” said Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of Complete College America. “I think they have a treasure trove of data, so making it more accessible is important.”
According to Rick Torres, President and CEO of the NSC, one of the key benefits of the initiative is that it will make comparisons between different studies easier.
“Historically, one of the problems with education research has been replicability. Can you take research that was done in State A for Population B and replicate that same thing in State X with Population Y?,” he said. “So, one of the reasons that the equity hub becomes a very powerful tool is that the Clearinghouse has the ability to normalize the cohorts that you’re talking about. So now, you’re talking apples to apples, and that makes research not only scalable, but usable.”
The NSC hopes to make it more straightforward for researchers and practitioners to find the data that are most relevant to them.
“What they want is, show me other [schools] like me that have been successful, and how can I learn from them?” said Torres. “That might not have been impossible before, but it was just difficult. So, this is about taking the friction out.”
Torres believes that the NSC is ideally positioned to accomplish this.
“The Clearinghouse has this unique perspective, that we work with hundreds, if not thousands, of ed. orgs, and we see the work that they’re doing, and a lot of that good work is stovepiped,” said Torres. “A foundation that’s sponsoring five or 50 grantees in an area, the results of that [are] a foundation conversation. It’s the practitioner level where the conversation needs to happen. What we'd like to do is to bring together a point of convening, where people who are going after the same equity issues, the same diversity issues, can come together and talk about what works and what's happening out there in a holistic way. We'd like to be in a place where, in a couple of years, we have convenings and all of that.”
Watson Spivak said that these convenings will be crucial to the initiative’s impact.
“It’s about making sure [the data] goes from just being available to actually being put into action,” she said. “It’s going to be important to make sure that they’re being proactive and getting the information in front of those who need it most to make decisions: policy-makers, legislators, or administrators at the college level.
Dr. Deborah Santiago, CEO of Excelencia in Education and a former board member of the NSC, agrees that the specifics are important.
“Establishing a network of practitioners to share best practices, that’s been outside the scope of a lot of [the NSC’s] efforts. So, I would like to see what kind of partnerships they’re building and how they’re looking at best practices. I wouldn’t go to the Clearinghouse as the trusted source for that kind of information,” she said.
And building such a network may prove difficult.
“It’s challenging when you’re very data-oriented to then move into practice, the human enterprise,” said Santiago. “It would require a great deal of nuance and engagement of practitioners and management of that.”
Santiago said that making sure practitioners are able to access and use the data may not be enough.
“I do think that the data have a lot of potential, but I want to make sure the interpretation of the data is appropriate and constructive for the students that the hub is intended to support,” she said. “You've got to make sure that it's not data for its own sake, using that same traditional way of thinking about it.”
In spite of these potential difficulties, Torres added that the DEI research hub is the right thing to do.
“This is ambitious,” he said. “I’m thinking big here, but that’s what you should do as a national player, right? Affect change as much as you possibly can.”
The initiative is scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2022.