Data on our higher education system is key for consumer information, accountability, and informed policy. At the same time, protecting individual student privacy through secure, anonymized systems should not be compromised. The federal and state agencies collect a variety of data points on institutions, and anonymized student records are also available to licensed researchers. These sources can be used to allow institutions to improve in ways that promote student success, inform students and families at key decision points in their higher education career, and allow states and the federal government to hold schools accountable for quality. Key sources of such information include school-reported information on enrollment, completion, and costs; administrative records on federal student aid awards; cross-sectional and longitudinal student-level surveys; and state-based information on students, schools, and programs. The launch of the College Scorecard in 2015 helped combined multiple sources of information, along with previously unreleased data, to help students and their families best evaluate the options available to them. However, certain information remains unavailable, limiting the potential for data-informed policy.
At the state level, student-unit administrative records systems are being developed and used in most states, each with it’s own unique structures and limitations.