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Blog: Look No Further! Potential Sources of Institutional Data

Posted on February 4, 2015 by , in Blog
Carolyn Brennan
Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research
University of Washington Bothell
Russell Cannon
Director of Institutional Research
University of Washington Bothell

This blog entry is a follow-up to our article in EvaluATE’s Winter 2015 newsletter on the use of institutional data for evaluation and grant proposals. In that article, we highlight data collected by most higher education institutions. Here we discuss additional sources that may be available on your campus.

  • Longitudinal Data Systems: As part of new federal regulations, states must track students longitudinally through and beyond the education pipeline. The implementation of these systems, the extent of the data stored, and the data availability varies greatly by state, with Texas, Florida, and Washington leading the pack.
  • Support Services: Check the college’s catalog of specific support service offerings and their target population; such listings are often created as resources for students as part of campus student success efforts. This information can help shape a grant proposal narrative and the services themselves may be potential spaces for embedding and assessing interventions.
  • Surveys: Many institutions administer surveys that track student beliefs, behaviors, and self-reported actions and characteristics. These include national surveys (which allow external benchmarking but less customization) and internal surveys (which allow more customization but only internal benchmarking). Data from such surveys can help shape grant proposals and evaluations in more qualitative ways. Frequently used survey types include:

Caution: All surveys may suffer from low response rates, low response bias, and the subjectivity of responses; they should only be used when more data are not available or to augment those “harder” data.

  • National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) data: Although schools are required to track data on student success at their own institutions, many are increasingly using tools like the National Student Clearinghouse to track where students transfer, whether they eventually graduate, and whether they go on to professional and graduate school. NSC is nearly always the most accurate source of data on graduate school attainment and can add nuance by reframing some “drop-outs” as transfers who eventually graduate.
  • Data on student behavior: While self-reported student behavior data can be obtained through surveys, many institutions, including have adopted card-swipe systems and tracking mechanisms that monitor student activity on learning management systems, which provide hard data on certain elements of student behavior, such as participation in extra-curricular activities, time spent with study groups or learning resources or behaviors such as coming late to class.
  • Campus-level assessment: Some institutions use standardized national tools like ACT’s Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency or the Council for Aid to Education’s Collegiate Learning Assessment. They are sometimes administered to all students; more often they are administered to a sample, sometimes on a voluntary basis (which may result in bias). At the urging of internal efforts or external accreditors, some institutions have developed in-house instruments (rubric-graded analysis of actual student work). While these may not be as “accurate” or “reliable” as nationally developed instruments, they are often better proxies of faculty and campus engagement.
  • Program-level assessment: Many programs may have program-specific capstones or shared assessments that can be used as part of the evaluation process.

These are all potential sources of data that can improve the assessment and description of interventions designed to support the mission of higher education institutions: an increase in student retention, enhanced academic performance and improved graduation rates. We’d like to hear if you’ve used any of these or others successfully towards this aim or others.