Get the facts first: A path forward for higher education

Because there are often so many voices offering so many different types of data, we believe it is essential to gather input from a diverse group of institutions on what should be measured and how that data can be collected. For the past two years, we have worked along with a coalition of 18 presidents from two-year, four-year, graduate, public, private not-for-profit and for-profit institutions in order to begin that process. Together, we constructed a framework for utilizing data effectively in building higher education policy. Through many long discussions, we identified issues that we believe are critical to higher education and should be focused on by public policy for years to come.

We believe it is vital that colleges and universities provide policymakers with data about these critical issue areas. Last week, the coalition, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, released a report (available at http://hcmstrategists.com/Gates_Metric_Report.aspx) that highlights key areas where colleges must do a better job providing detailed and consistent data. The areas identified were repayment and default rates on student loans, student progression and degree completion rates, the real cost for an institution to produce a degree, graduate employment outcomes and the quality of student learning assessments.

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Without knowledge of these factors, many policymakers are engaging in a guessing game. But collaborative efforts such as ours help remove some of the guesswork. By reaching out to several nontraditional online and competency-based institutions, we were able to address demographics that have previously been excluded from data collections. With a growing number of nontraditional learners, including them in any analysis is essential for painting a true picture of higher education. And by producing input-adjusted metrics on loan repayment and student loan default rates for each of the participating institutions, we leave room to recognize the complexity and uniqueness of each individual collection of students—raising the bar for measurement standards and moving down a very exciting path.

If we are able to provide lawmakers and officials with detailed information for areas like these at every institution, then they will have a much clearer picture of what decisions need to be made, what the choices actually are, and they will be far better equipped to plan a path forward.

While there is certainly some apprehension in the academic community about being so open about real performance numbers, it is a challenge we must take on—and take on gladly. Institutions devoted to developing critical thinkers and ethical citizens should not fear transparency. Not only is it the best for students, but it will challenge administrators and faculty to raise the bar and meet even higher goals. Through a commitment to strategic metrics and more collaborative effort between each of the institutions of higher learning, the Department of Education and Congress, we can begin to establish clear, strategic and effective policy for our students and build towards a brighter future for higher education.


Leslie is chancellor of Alamo Colleges; Klonoski is president of Charter Oak State College; Ladewig is provost, Regis University; Kinney is president of Capella University; and Babel is vice president of regulatory affairs at DeVry Inc.