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IHEP Report Recommends Strengthening Data-Use Practices

A new report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy and Education Counsel emphasizes the importance of disaggregating data to promote racial, ethnic and socioeconomic equity and student success.

“Data uncovers the inequities,” said Mamie Voight, vice president of policy research for the Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP). “Data on its own is not going to close equity gaps, but it does shine a light and point out important findings to guide efforts that will ultimately lead to improvement.”

Mamie VoightMamie Voight

In a report released on Tuesday, IHEP highlights the importance of postsecondary accreditors utilizing data to inform their reviews. With more complete data, accreditors can evaluate institutional progress and see to it that the institutions they oversee are providing equitable opportunities for all students.

The report, “Informing Improvement: Recommendations for Enhancing Accreditor Data-Use to Promote Student Success and Equity” describes important data-use practices such as graduation rates, employment outcomes and other data on student access, persistence and support.

Voight, one of the authors of the report, said accreditors should build data into their routine and regular practices. By developing more of a culture of inquiry, data will be a part of their decision making processes and also the work they are doing to help institutions improve student success.

“What we found is that while accreditors are collecting some data on measures of student success, they’re not collecting as much as one might think and they’re not disaggregating those data by race, ethnicity, income and other key student characteristics,” said Voight. “Without that disaggregated data, which is critical to examining issues of equity in higher education, the accreditors can’t have those conversations with institutions about how they’re doing at serving all of their students.

“Data are really a key door-opener to those conversations that need to happen to drive institutional improvement,” she added.

Several stages of research went into the report. The authors conducted interviews and then the research team conducted a review and analysis of 10 regional, national and programmatic accreditors’ data-use practices. It is noted that only two regional accreditors explicitly mention equity or disaggregation in their standards and policies, and only a few note issues of diversity and inclusion.

The work of IHEP focuses quite a bit on data collection and use. Voight said as accreditors ask for data, most specifically disaggregated data, they are signaling to institutions what is important. Accreditors pushing conversations forward on student success helps shape what institutions do.

Voight said the research indicates the institutions that have made the biggest gains in terms of graduation rates and made progress in terms of closing gaps between students of color and low income students and their classmates have done so by focusing on data.

“Data helps point the way to solutions,” said Voight. “By looking at the size of gaps and where they exist, accreditors and institutions can then dive further to try and unpack what’s actually happening and causing some students to graduate at lower rates or succeed at lower rates after graduation. Then evaluate improvement efforts over time as they implement new policies or practices or reform existing policies or practices, they can use data to evaluate whether they’re moving in the right direction.”

The report includes three recommendations of proactive steps that accreditors can take to incorporate outcomes-focused, equity-minded data into the entire review cycle to promote evidence-driven institutional improvement. 1) Embed data-use into routine practice. 2) Emphasize equity. 3) Increase transparency about data-use practices.

While the investigators found accreditors are gathering data on enrollment, data on other indicators are not being collected. IHEP suggests accreditors should look at  measures of success across the spectrum — access, progress, completion/graduation and success after completion. This data should be disaggregated by race, ethnicity and income.

“Accreditors can first leverage data that are publicly available, such as federally available data and sources like IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) or the College Scorecard,” Voight said. “Where those data prove insufficient, turning to institutions to ask for additional information. As those accreditors ask for information and data, they’re signaling to institutions what’s important and helping spark those discussions about student success.”

Voight said institutions should go beyond what accreditors request and look at even more detailed data. She noted institutions truly addressing the achievement gap aren’t just looking at six-year graduation rates, but also early indicators such as credit accumulation rates and academic performance.

“There are ways we’ve seen progress made and ways that we would like to see more progress made so we can have a more complete focus on equity where we’re both counting all students and disaggregating by key racial and socioeconomic characteristics to really uncover those equity gaps,” Voight said.

“We do a lot of advocacy right now around promoting a student-level data network,” she added. “Reforming our data systems at the national level so we would have an improved federal data system that would more easily allow for this type of data collection and data disaggregation to promote policy making and student decision making that would focus on student success and equity.”

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