IPEDS Idiocy

In the article “New Data Show Where Veterans Enroll, but Not How They Fare,” The Chronicle of Higher Education demonstrates, once again, how idiotic it is to use IPEDS data in a discussion about college completion. After discussing who is enrolling veterans, and showing a chart of the number of enrollments at the top institutions and graduations percentages, the article goes on to say “The graduation rates listed…use IPEDS data, which only count first-time, full-time students who did not transfer.”  In other words, the graduation rates used are not derived from the number of veterans attending, but from a far smaller cohort who are first-time full-time and have not transferred!

Think about that for a minute. Less than 20 per cent of today’s undergraduates fit that description. Yet the government’s core data set is still tied to that traditional model, hurting any institution that deals with the other 80%. In the post-traditional world, the average learner attends two or more colleges. And veterans, along with many other returning adult learners, are bringing learning from several sources, including their military training and experience. By definition, veterans will not, in most cases, be “first-time, full-time students who did not transfer.”

This IPEDS’ idiocy also runs directly counter to the administration’s commitment to assist previously marginalized students with their college completion agenda. The distortion of institutional impact and quality is impossible to erase. For example, as part of the aforementioned article, a chart listed “number of veterans using GI Bill enrolled “on the left and “Graduation Rates” on the right. But the Graduation Rates are not derived from the total enrollments.

The straight fact is that the more college “completers” you enroll, (i.e. transfer students or students with some college credit and no degree), the lower your graduation rate will be as measured by IPEDS. If that is your mission, you do it anyway, because it is the right thing to do. But the fodder this distortion gives the enemies of innovation and critics of post-traditional education is obvious. And in a political climate where some politicians are threatening to treat the hard-earned benefit that the GI Bill represents to our veterans like a government grant, this data distortion takes on even more significance.

Post-traditional institutions — public, private, and proprietary — and the students they serve deserve data analytics and measures of quality that use “apples to apples” comparisons with other similar institutions and equal treatment with more traditional models. In the age of “big data,” the least the government can do is generate accurate data tailored to the reality of the contemporary learner population profile in America’s colleges.

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