New Paper Discusses the Clearinghouse’s Role in the National Postsecondary Data Infrastructure
Four Actions to Strengthen the National Data Infrastructure
By Dr. Doug Shapiro, Executive Research Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center
The Clearinghouse released a paper today entitled, “The National Student Clearinghouse as an Integral Part of the National Postsecondary Data Infrastructure,” as part of a national discussion by higher education and public policy experts for improving the national postsecondary data infrastructure. I was pleased to be invited to co-author and present the paper with Afet Dundar, Associate Director of the Research Center.
In our paper, which is one of 11 showcased at today’s event, “Envisioning the National Postsecondary Data Infrastructure in the 21st Century,” we describe the existing content, value, uses and costs of the Clearinghouse system. Unlike many of the other papers discussed, we recommend an incremental approach rather than instituting a new data collection system. That’s because most of the needs of students, institutions and policymakers can already be met with systems that the Clearinghouse has in place or is planning to develop. These systems are self-sustaining and cost-effective. They have also been proven to provide appropriate protections for student data privacy.
Within this context, we suggest four actions to better support the nation’s postsecondary data infrastructure needs, capacity, reach, and effectiveness:
- Encourage and expand existing incentives, mechanisms and opportunities for voluntary transparency on the part of institutions. This means developing metrics and outcomes that offer value by benchmarking institutional improvement and student success, and giving every college and university a reason to participate.
- Build stronger public-private partnerships among institutions, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Clearinghouse to provide enhancements to public data, such as the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), with minimal increase in institutional burden.
- Develop a public access data facility that would bring PowerStats-like functionality to Clearinghouse data and provide researchers and policymakers with rapid access to aggregated, anonymized results.
- Extend existing linkages between the Clearinghouse’s data and local and state data systems, to make it easier to measure the effectiveness of high schools at preparing students for college and careers anywhere in the country.
Policymakers and the higher education community should work together to achieve desired levels of transparency that would benefit all stakeholders. As an example, they can do so by building on existing successful models, such as the Student Achievement Measures (SAM), and by providing direct benefits to institutions in exchange for their participation. These measures amount to working strategically to strengthen the postsecondary data ecosystem we have today, in which the Clearinghouse serves as a private, nonprofit intermediary facilitating the regulatory data exchange between institutions and the Department of Education (ED). By working with institutional associations, accreditors, states, and other stakeholders, ED could develop new reporting requirements to meet reasonable accountability needs, with the confidence that the Clearinghouse reporting option would ensure timely and accurate data while minimizing the burden on institutions.
The Clearinghouse has evolved over 23 years to perform many of the functions of a national student-level data system, all while meeting the needs of higher education institutions for data to improve their programs and serve their students better. Continuing to advance the public-private partnership of this system is the best option for today’s national data infrastructure while meeting the needs of institutions, students, and other education stakeholders.