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Subcommittee Discusses Effectiveness and Efficiency of Federal Higher Education Data

The Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), today held a hearing entitled, “Assessing College Data: Helping to Provide Valuable Information to Students, Institutions, and Taxpayers.”  In preparation for the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), the hearing explored whether the federal higher education data collection system is appropriately serving students, taxpayers, and institutions.

“Without a doubt, the [2008] reauthorization of the Higher Education Act started a process of enhancing higher education transparency. But as tuition continues to rise at an astonishing pace, it is clear more work must be done to help students and families make informed choices about their higher education options without overburdening institutions with counterproductive red tape,” Rep. Foxx stated.

During the hearing, higher education experts discussed their concerns about the current federal higher education data collection system. While explaining the shortcomings in the Department of Education’s primary system for data collection, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), American Institutes for Research Vice President Dr. Mark Schneider said, “IPEDS would be a pretty good data system for the 1950s, but IPEDS is flawed – perhaps fatally so – given our current system of higher education.”

Dr. Schneider added, “The reauthorization of HEA [is] an ideal opportunity for Congress to start cleaning out the IPEDS attic. There’s just stuff in there that may have been important at one time or seemed important at one time… We need to ask the question, what’s the compelling national interest in collecting [some of] the data?”

As Rep. Foxx noted in her opening remarks, the nation’s 7,000 postsecondary education institutions are expected to dedicate an incredible 850,000 hours and $31 million to fulfill data reporting requirements in the 2012-2013 academic year.

Shenandoah University President Dr. Tracy Fitzsimmons offered visual confirmation of this burden. “Today I am presenting to you – literally – reams of paper documenting the information that is readily and openly available to the public on just one institution – Shenandoah University. Will more disclosure requirements or an over-arching data set really add more to what is already there? Or will it simply add another layer or a narrowing of the information available to students and parents as they attempt to navigate the higher education sector?”

Dr. Fitzsimmons continued, “[I don’t] disagree with the view that there are some important data points we might place in front of prospective students…[But] if we don’t keep it simple, we have accomplished nothing but more costs for colleges and more confusion for the student.”

Texas A&M University System Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. James Hallmark echoed Dr. Fitzsimmons’ comments, stating, “Universities are awash in data. The challenge is less in developing data than transforming existing data into usable information… This challenge became personal to me this past year as I had a college freshman daughter, and even I found the [data] language confusing as I helped her navigate college admission.” Dr. Hallmark continued, “The solution is not to avoid data reporting, but rather to do so wisely, understanding the variances in institution mission and size and its impact on the variable.”

To learn more about this hearing, read witness testimony, or watch an archived webcast, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

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