Collection Proposal Sparks
for Education Statistics (NCES)
has proposed a substantial change in the way it collects higher
education data. The controversial plan would require colleges and
universities to provide detailed information about individual students.
Proponents say the new "unit record" system is needed
to more accurately track students' academic progress, measure retention
and graduation rates, and tabulate a school's "net price"
the cost after financial aid is taken into account. They say it
would promote greater accountability.
because social security numbers would be used to match data files,
some argue that it would erode privacy at a time when many institutions
are moving away from personal identifying information, and that
it would require some campuses to change their computer systems
to churn out the required information. Paul
Research) said there would also be a major burden in verifying the
accuracy of the data a process akin to verification of financial
aid packaging. But Duby said his biggest concern is that the plan
has potential to stifle student access.
are talking about rewards and penalties based on institutional performance,
which means that schools like Northern, which offers access to underserved
populations, would be vulnerable under the new system," he
said. "We're even hearing that kind of talk at the state level:
'Why is your graduation rate for baccalaureate students 50 percent
and the University of Michigan's
90 percent?' You have to consider the validity of the comparisons.
can be selective. It draws the top 1 percent of in-state students.
The academic credentials of our incoming students aren't as strong
but our mission is different than theirs. And its a mission similar
to that of Eastern, Central, Saginaw
and most of the other Michigan
has long served as an opportunity for success the path to the
American dream. If universities are punished for lower graduation
rates because they happen to provide educational opportunities to
those less likely to graduate high-risk, minorities and those
from lower socioeconomic backgrounds this will only squash access.
I just don't know who's fighting for the underdog here."
currently provide aggregate data on enrollment, tuition, revenue
and expenditures, graduation rates and other measures. Converting
to a unit record system would involve collecting additional data
on a student-by-student basis. This would enable the U.S. Department
of Education to track individuals through their entire academic
careers from tuition and fees paid to loans and grants awarded
regardless of how often they transfer between institutions.
will participate in a Web seminar on the unit record issue on April
5. It is sponsored by the Council on Law in Higher Education.
there has been no broad call for input from institutions, even though
this is major public policy that could have a substantial impact
on higher education. It could be a done deal. Organizations are
waking up to the implications of this plan, but it is probably too
Congress votes to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which contains
the unit record proposal, the system could be tested in 2006-07
and be fully operational as early as the 2007-08 academic year.