Five years after the Student-Right-to-Know Act went into effect, there are still concerns about reporting requirements and how they should be compared.
The Student-Right-to-Know Act was adopted five years ago as a way to help families make informed decisions about where a student should attend by requiring colleges and universities to report graduation rates and campus crime statistics. It was written in the wake of the 1986 murder of a Lehigh University student, poor graduation records for athletes, and the widely-acknowledged need for a uniform reporting system. Federally-aided colleges and universities are required to make the information available to students and employees.
But some admissions officials report that current reporting policies leave too much room for interpretation. “Currently, there are a number of concerns over the lack of standards, particularly for admission data,” said Andre L. Bell, vice provost and dean for enrollment at Bentley College in Massachusetts.
“Many of the problems arise when colleges and universities report selectivity information including academic profile data such as SAT score range and class range,” he said. “The big issue is about which population is counted. Do you count everyone regardless of special admission standards? For example, students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program may not be put into the verbal scores. Everyone is supposed to be in the numbers, but not everyone reports that way.”
Furthermore, Bell said, many institutions are more concerned about image than accurate data, which may mean excluding categories such as special admittance and probationary students. “They may not want them in their average profile,” he said. “The concerns are that some institutions put the best face on the information. The question is `what’s the real information?'”
In the works are new rules that would go part of the way to meeting those concerns by clearly defining many of the gray areas and creating new categories for easier comparisons such as “first-time freshman student.”
Among other things, colleges will be required to find out whether a student who transferred out actually enrolled in another college under new rules promulgated under the Student Right-To-Know Act — rules that college registrars say will strain their already overburdened offices.
The new rules, issued in December by the Department of Education, are to go into effect in July, but the American Associaton of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) has already asked the education department to alter them.
AACRAO is not convinced that all of the newly proposed regulations are sufficient. AACRAO states that the new rules “would not provide useful consumer information because the data produced would be inconsistent, making comparability between institutions impossible.”
“Unfortunately, there are some inherent features of the legislation that do not make the rules fair to everyone in education,” said AACRAO executive director Wayne E. Becraft. AACRAO represents 8,400 individual and 2,400 institutional members, board of directors, and national office staff.
AACRAO offered the following recommendations to the Department of Education:
* The final regulations for the Student Right-to-know Act should adopt the same graduation rate, collection and reporting mechanism as that being developed by the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to be part of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) reporting.
* Community colleges and other institutions should be able to acknowledge their unique mission by reporting contextual information with their graduation rate data. Reporting graduation rates alone for these institutions could potentially be misleading because they are likely to be lower than the rates for four-year colleges and universities.
* Duplication of efforts between the Student Right-To-Know Act and the IPEDS requirements of the Department of Education should be eliminated.
“The next step for us is to talk to the Department of Education, and to help to educate people on what the requirements are,” said AACRAO executive director Wayne Becraft.
The final rules require that students be tracked at the rate at which they complete or graduate and the rate at which students transfer out of institutions. If an institution chooses to establish a cohort of transfers in, the final rules require institutions to publish the data separately and not include it in the calculation of the graduation rate. Information about minority retention and graduation rates are taken into consideration.
But at the root of many of the concerns for institutions is the fact that information reported by institutions affect marketing efforts to recruit students, either positively or negatively.
Implementing the law has also meant significant expenses at many institutions, primarily in developing programming and software to collect data from various departments throughout the university. For those colleges and universities caught without a system already in place, the cost has sometimes been substantial.
Courtney O. McAnuff, vice president for enrollment services at the University of Eastern Michigan said, “We had to do a lot more with computing and had a lot more computer and software contracts. We’ve been dealing with this for about three years, and have spent over the years a quarter of a million dollars.”
McAnuff also questions how important the information developed under the Student Right-To-Know Act is to families making decisions on where students should attend college.
“Most parents don’t tell students where they should go,” McAnuff said. They get involved in telling them where they shouldn’t go,” he said.
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