National Higher Education Summit Explores Role of Data, Innovation

Panels discuss strategies that help students stay the course

(Image: File)

At the National Higher Education Summit held in Washington, D.C., last week, the National Urban League and USA Funds, which hosted the summit, held panels that explored strategies that promote student success.

[Related: What it Takes to Graduate From College]

Data and Accountability
The ‘Data and Accountability’ panel boasted the following speakers: John Capps, president of Central Virginia Community College; Antonio Flores, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities; Wendell Hall, senior director, policy advocacy, global policy and advocacy at the College Board; Marck Schneider, president of College Measures and vice president at the American Institutes for Research; and Johnny C. Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which supports black institutions that receive public funding.

In a lively discussion, panelists agreed that policies need to be informed by data and research. Taking the student’s perspective, Schneider said that all prospective students need to ask themselves the following before deciding on a school:

  • Will I get in? The average college admissions rate is 65%.
  • Will I get out? Graduation rates are an important consideration.
  • How long will it take? Schneider said that four-year programs aren’t; neither are two-year programs. “There are lost wages every year the student is in school,” he said.
  • How much will it cost? How much will I need to borrow?
  • How much will I earn (after I graduate)?

“We are data rich, but information poor,” Hall quoted a colleague, noting that his colleague may not have been the first to use that pithy phrase, but it rang true for the other panelists, who nodded their heads in agreement. Having the data doesn’t necessarily lead to informed decisions. The Education Trust’s website, the panelists agreed, was a sound source of accessible data.

Capps described a six-year strategic plan that Central Virginia has implemented. The plan supports completion by design and is undergirded by a performance-based funding model. I was concerned, however, that perverse incentives could creep in. To be eligible for funding, schools could graduate students who haven’t done the work. Requiring schools to follow evidence-based practices that strengthen and enable students to do the work needed to graduate—and requiring schools to produce data that proves their compliance—could guard against such incentives.

Teaching and Learning: Innovation & Next Generation Models
I didn’t hear this entire panel because I needed to prepare to moderate the panel that followed, which explored business and higher education. But what I heard is worth sharing.

Gracing the ‘Teaching & Learning’ panel were Julian Alssid, chief workforce strategist at College for America; Allison Barber, chancellor at Western Governors University in Indiana; Kevin Cook, associate vice president and dean of students at Arizona State University; Maggie George, president of Diné College; and Josh Williams, associate vice president of program development at Inside Track.

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