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Transparency—A Familiar Buzzword in Higher Ed

By Kayla Guilford

Pop Quiz. Which buzz word resonates the most with you?

A.    Access
B.    Accountability
C.    Affordability
D.    Transparency

Hint: If you have a stake in higher education, they all should! Access, accountability, affordability and transparency have long been swept under the rug and innovative thinking is a must! The time is now as the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) reauthorization is almost finally upon us. The Higher Education Committee of 50 is tasked with just that: out of the box thinking to address the holes in current legislation.

Recently gathering in Washington, D.C. for the first of many meetings (and may I mention, exhausted after only two days of convening!), we met as "50" to deliberate on pressing issues facing higher education, specifically on students enrolling in, paying for, and graduating from, college. The committee, focusing on the four pillars of accountability, access, affordability, and transparency, heard from a diverse and knowledgeable group of panelists who spoke to each of these areas, helping us to develop forward-thinking processes.

I was blown away by the in-depth conversation that was happening, not only in the conference room, but spilling over into the hotel lobby and at dinner. Many conversations even continued as we were annoyed about being forced to stay an extra day due to this year’s never ending winter. The result further solidified our alliance surrounding the ongoing issues.

As a subcommittee member of the transparency pillar, I am beyond thrilled to explore the why, how and what of higher ed data, with a goal of students’ desired outcomes at the center of it all. Why do the current, multiple data systems—like the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS)—have information overlap? How much time do students have to dig in to data to make future choices? What information do students really want? These questions, and more, are what we hope to answer as a team in the coming year.

Our colleagues at the Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP) created a schema crosswalk which illustrates the numerous data sources institutions are expected to shuffle through to provide students with decision-making data. A student should be given the ability to effortlessly make educated decisions in choosing an education path, determining how to pay for it, and understanding the perceived outcomes of those choices (effortlessly being the key word!). Our industry is in desperate need of a centralized data system containing information needed by our students that can be easily understood and requires limited reporting liability on the institutions. The Higher Education Committee of 50 team plans to utilize consumer testing and feedback, creating a user-centered design, to answer some of these questions.

The transparency subcommittee is comprised of passionate professionals who are experts in their fields. We come from a wide-variety of backgrounds and demographics which makes for interesting yet robust conversation allowing for diverse outlooks on the same situation. While I vividly remember a conversation containing the phrase, "I must respectfully disagree," in the end we came to agree on big-picture transparency issues facing higher ed. No boxing rings and gloves needed for this group!

I highlighted a section in my notes from the transparency panel discussion that truly changed my perspective in terms of data. My intent in sharing is that the same will be true for the readers of this blog post. It reads, "Data is currently biased. We assume every institution is the same. We are a highly diverse society."

Catch up on any past Higher Education Committee of 50 blog entries you may have missed.