Lederman, D. (2009) Aggressive Plan for State Data Systems Inside Higher Education, September 28

This article discusses moves by the U.S. Congress and Senate to develop measures of performance for post-secondary education. The goal is to attack the problem of low completion rates and under-representation of students from low income families (although it varies widely from institution to institution, only 60 per cent of undergraduate enrolments actually complete a four year degree, and the average time of completion is six years, in the USA – see Bowen et al., 2009).

One aspect of the Senate draft deals with “expanding statewide longitudinal data systems.” Under the plan, states …. would have to assure that the data systems they create include all public postsecondary institutions in the state (private institutions could be included if they choose, but not required to participate) and that the systems collect information on each individual student’s:

  • Secondary school record, including graduation date and scores on college entrance tests (like SAT, ACT, AP or International Baccalaureate exams).
  • Financial status.
  • Entry and exit from colleges.
  • Higher education progress and performance, including remedial course placement, credit completion, time to degree, receipt of degrees and certificates, and “performance on nationally validated assessments of postsecondary learning or value-added measures of postsecondary learning, if available.”
  • Job placement, postsecondary earnings, and attainment of industry credentials.

The benefits and risks of such aggregated data are obvious. Benefits include being able to provide reliable statistics on college enrolments and student performance by ethnicity, geographical location and family income, accurate data on completion rates, analysing the relationship between student performance and investment in public education, and a host of other data that could be used for both political and institutional decision-making. The dangers though include privacy and security issues – who would have access to such data and for what purposes  – the danger of political interference in institutions on the misinterpretation or distortion of data, etc.

Canadians should pay close attention to this debate. The government of Alberta for instance is pushing for a single identifying code for each student that will follow that student from kindergarten to old age pension. There are advantages from a student point of view – all their records in one place, and thus making application to different courses, programs and colleges much simpler – but also the government can analyse aggregated data to influence decision-making about future investments, and again, the way this information could be used is quite scary, if the necessary protections to personal privacy and iron-clad security are not provided.

Watch this space for further developments.


Bowen, W., Chingus, M. and Mc Pherson, M. (2009) Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here