Report calls for specific data

The system would require colleges to give information on student performance.

by Cati Vanden Breul

Colleges need to be held more accountable when it comes to tracking students’ academic progress, according to a report released this month by a national higher education commission.

The report, conducted by the National Commission on Accountability in Higher Education, calls for a system that would require colleges to provide the government with specific information about a student’s academic performance, financial aid and demographics.

Currently, colleges provide the government with only summary enrollment and achievement data, which the commission said is ineffective in measuring the progress of students within an institution.

More accountability is needed because the United States is falling behind in high school graduation and college attendance rates, said Charles Lenth, senior associate of the State Higher Education Executive Officers, a nationwide association of higher education officials, which developed the commission.

“Ten years ago, the U.S. was far ahead in entrance into college and college graduation (rates),” Lenth said.

Now, the United States ranks as low as 16th in high school graduation rates, he said.

“Many European countries have simply surpassed the United States,” Lenth said. “We can’t just stand still and say, ‘We were the best in the past, and that’s fine.’ “

According to the report, colleges and state legislatures should form greater partnerships in defining goals of higher education at the state level.

This would include making budgetary decisions based on statewide data systems that would identify achievement gaps and “promote greater equity in allocating resources,” according to the report.

University biology junior Carrie Belongia said she would not mind if the University provided the government with her financial aid or academic achievement information.

“Income is a big barrier in higher education,” Belongia said.

But Regal Johnson, a political science and history senior, said he would not want the government to have access to his personal information.

“It feels like it would be an invasion of privacy,” Johnson said.

He said the government should provide colleges with more money instead of creating more bureaucracy.

“It seems to me, a far better solution would be to actually give colleges money to do the job right,” Johnson said.

Phillip Trobaugh, chairman of the education law department at the law firm of Mansfield, Tanick, & Cohen, P.A., said requiring colleges to report specific information on students would raise privacy issues.

Trobaugh said the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, as well as the Minnesota Data Practices Act, would be affected if colleges released students’ personal information.

“There’s always a problem in being more efficient and maintaining privacy,” he said.

But Lenth said states that compiled similar data reports found them beneficial. He also said information collected on students by the government would remain well-protected.