Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Alternative System for Assessing Student Graduation

Student data and success rates are a hot topic for university administrators. States and universities are seeking methods of accurately tracking data to better determine a whole host of issues ranging from legislature to funding. Six educational associations and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have been working on an alternative system they believe will be more accurate in its reflection of higher education graduation rates. 

New methods of tracking student success rates have been developed through using a sign-up service called the Student Achievement Measure (SAM). Some universities may be attracted to the alternative methods of tracking student success rates. The National Student Clearinghouse will keep track of posted data for transfer students, two-year colleges and part-time students. 

Some universities and states have argued that reliance on the Federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System is not as accurate as once thought. Students that start at one college but finish at another are left out of the total data mix and this skews graduation rates. States are seeking better methods of tracking and using student data to adjust their own policies. 

Part of the reason this has become such a concern is that the older methods of enrolling a student in one university and expecting them to stay there throughout their entire educational process is unlikely. Students are more transient, work full-time jobs, and may take courses online when compared to fifty years ago. Focusing only on enrollment and graduation from the same university leaves out a larger percentage of people that bounce in, out, and transfer as they complete their degrees. 

The advantage of a more comprehensive system is that it can influence both state and federal legislation as it offers a more comprehensive picture of graduation rates and the educational experience. For example, students who are first generation college students may not have the same financial resources as other families. Their educational approach may include a number of transfers and a few semesters out of school where such students deal with life issues. The traditional tracking system would simply drop them. With a new system it is possible to track the entire educational process and reflect more accurately their educational paths.

Another issue is that government funding is increasingly being tied to these federal statistics. Those universities that have an important role in serving non-traditional students may appear in a negative light only because the right information is not being collected. Non-traditional students are more likely unable to stop working, move into a dormitory, and have wealthy parents who finance their education while paying their bills. This means their successes will not be tracked, understood, or counted if they don’t fit under a traditional tracking model.

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