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Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Complete College America and the Alliance: Redefining How We Measure Success

Measuring Outcomes for More Students

It is imperative to the future of this nation that we Increase degree completion in higher education, yet for many years, the higher education community measured success at colleges and universities by looking at outcomes for only a portion of students. In 2010, Complete College America partnered with the National Governors Association to change this. We worked with the Work Group on Common College Completion Metrics to urge states to collect both outcome and progress metrics for all students, including part-time and transfer students, broken out by race/ethnicity, gender, age, Pell status, and remedial need. Specifically, the resulting publication Compete to Complete: Common College Completion Metric urged Governors, higher education executive officers, legislators, and college and university presidents to implement policy and data system changes to produce accurate information on the following metrics:

Context: Enrollment; Completion Ratio

Outcome Metrics: Degrees and certificates awarded; Graduation rates; Transfer rates; Time and credits to degree

Progress Metrics: Enrollment in remedial education; Success beyond remedial education; Success in first-year college courses; Credit accumulation; Retention rates; Course completion

Stakeholders from Complete College America’s Alliance of States rose to this challenge, and over the past five years, more than 30 states and 500 institutions have submitted these metrics to Complete College America, creating an unprecedented data set that includes students whose outcomes have never before been measured and outcomes that have never before been understood at scale.

Complete College America has used these data to highlight the impact of additional time in a student’s ability to complete a degree and to highlight the consistent challenges in the higher education system. Alliance states have used these metrics to create new funding models, measure their current performance and track the success of new interventions. And now that the data set has grown and matured, we look forward to the overall impact it might have in addressing unanswered questions for the field as a whole.

Moving the Field Forward

This year marks another turning point in the metrics conversation. Six years after Complete College America and the National Governors Association released the Common Completion Metrics, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released Answering the Call: Institutions and States Lead the Way Toward Better Measures of Postsecondary Performance. This piece calls for the entire field to count all students and institutions, count all outcomes, and count all costs. This work brings together the work done by more than 15 voluntary data initiatives and urges the field to scale the exchange of essential higher education metrics. The framework draws heavily on the Common Completion Metrics to define access, progress, completion, and equity measures.

This work was followed by the Institute for Higher Education Policy’s (IHEP) Toward Convergence: A Technical Guide for the Postsecondary Metrics Framework. This technical guide provides functional definitions for all the metrics defined in Answering the Call’s framework.

The Complete College America Alliance of States leads the way as a model for how states and institutions can report and use these metrics. With a few exceptions, states and institutions already reporting the Common Completion Metrics to Complete College America will find the definitions related to Access, Progress, Completion and Equity metrics almost identical to those they have been reporting for more than five years.

Today, IHEP, in conjunction with leaders in the field, will release Envisioning the National Postsecondary Data Infrastructure in the 21st Century, a paper series that examines existing Postsecondary Data Infrastructure and provides clear recommendations to support a more functional data ecosystem. These papers discuss opportunities and improvements in existing systems, pathways to greater flexibility in exchanging data, a proposal for a centralized student data system at the federal level and guidance on protecting privacy and quality. Complete College America partnered with our data collection partners at the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) to highlight the importance of these state postsecondary data systems. These are the systems that have enabled the vast majority of states to report the Common Completion Metrics. They provide an important resource in the field and are essential to helping states plan, respond and assess changing state needs, not to mention they are critical to states’ ability to improve student outcomes. The release of these papers will be livestreamed here at 12:30 PM Eastern on May 18th.

Complete College America has always relied on data as the foundation of our work to drive the field toward improving outcomes for all students. We look forward to helping support the data ecosystem as we work together to scale the use of student data to improve outcomes for everyone.

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posted by Katie Zaback

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