Here’s How a Student ‘Unit Record’ System Could Change Higher Ed

In The News Piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education
Flickr Creative Commons
May 25, 2017

Amy Laitinen and Clare McCann were quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education about how colleges can better direct their course strategies to position students for long-term success.

"Students are able to look at that and realize that they can come in and take those classes to make more money," said Amy Laitinen, director for higher education at New America. Colleges, she said, are able to better direct their course strategies to position students for long-term success.
One of the promises of a record system, Ms. Laitinen said, "is that it will really help schools understand the trajectory of students, what works, and what doesn’t — and then they can reallocate the resources towards what works." By being able to quantifiably identify where students are succeeding, and how colleges are preparing them for success, state legislatures would also be better able to hold colleges accountable, she added.
Even some of those who had been fiercely opposed to the unit-record system have acknowledged that better data is needed. Virginia Foxx, chair of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the author of the original ban, advanced the argument during a speech to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation in January. "Choosing a college or university is an important decision that will have a lasting impact in [students’] lives — it’s so important that individuals have the information they need to choose the right school," she said, adding that oftentimes the available information is misleading or inaccurate. "Streamlining that information," in the overdue reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, she said, "will enable them to make smarter, more informed decisions about their education."
That support for better data, however, puts Ms. Foxx in a tough position, Ms. Laitinen said.
"She’s in a hard place because she is the author of the ban, but on the other hand she certainly understands the importance of answering these questions," Ms. Laitinen said. "She wants the answers to these questions, and she’s also hyperfocused on burden. So, if you want to increase information and transparency while reducing burden, there’s really only one way to get there."

Though supporters of the new bill do not see it moving outside of a Higher Education Act reauthorization, which has been made less certain by tensions on the Senate education committee, they remain hopeful.

"At some point the drumbeat gets louder than the people calling to keep the ban in place, so it’s matter of time until that starts to overwhelm the opposition," said Clare McCann, a senior policy analyst at New America.

When the legislation was introduced last week, several advocacy organizations cheered the bipartisan effort. "This bill is another example of great opportunity to address the concerns that students, policy makers, and institutions are raising about not being able to get high-quality comparable information with a reasonable amount of burden," Ms. McCann said.