A Proposed Federal Student Level Data Network

February 1, 2021

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Title: Implementing a Student-Level Data Network (Part II): Insight from Institutional Representatives

Authors: Josh Pretlow, Erin Dunlop Velez, and Amanda Janice Roberson

Source: The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP)

Currently, two pieces of pending legislation (the College Affordability Act in the House, and College Transparency Act in the Senate) propose the creation of a federal postsecondary student-level data network (SLDN), both of which would charge the National Center for Education Statistics with overseeing such a system.

Following an August brief, which detailed advice from panelists representing a range of higher education stakeholders, a new brief from the Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP) and RTI International focuses on what data submission to a SLDN might look like from the perspective of a panel of institutional research professionals.

Panelists provided insight into data reporting practices, their knowledge of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and anticipated challenges. The panel was asked to consider data availability and submission practices based on the assumption that institutions would submit four categories of student level data: demographic information, financial aid, enrollment, and college completion. Among others, some notable points of discussion among panelists included:

  • The need to collect demographic data as a minimum standard, while also noting an interest in the Department of Education revisiting and redefining gender categories, and splitting race and ethnicity data into two distinct elements.
  • Issues around data access, ownership, and governance of financial aid data as institutional research offices often do not have access to financial aid data.
  • Concern regarding the reporting burden a SLDN might place on institutions, particularly those with smaller institutional research offices. Panelists recommended availability of SLDN data coaches to help institutions, easy to use and manipulable reporting templates, and flexible reporting windows for data submission, given varied academic calendars.
  • An interest in institutions being able to view dashboards of de-identified student-level data of peer institutions for benchmarking purposes.

In addition to reviewing potential data elements, considerations, and submission practices, the brief proposes four data collection schedule models, ranging from institutions submitting relevant data once per year, to having a flexible schedule where each element is submitted based on its own optimal submission timetable.

To read the full brief, please click here.

—Charles Sanchez

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