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Data quality is the first step toward education reform

Richard Jones

February 19, 2014

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There is a lot of debate occurring in America today about how best to fix the higher education system. A lot needs to change - students need to be given more equal opportunities, financial aid and help making it to graduation. On the other hand, colleges need to do more to help organizations address their talent gaps with qualified young professionals.

All of the above are laudable goals, but there's a great deal of concern that none of those things can happen without higher standards for data quality. There's a lot of education data out there - it ranges from financial information about college applicants to people's graduation and employment rates. But in order to make a real difference, education leaders don't just need data. They need good data.

According to Inside Higher Ed, there's not enough attention being paid to the issue of quality education data. In Washington, this is something that's agreed upon on both sides of the aisle. In fact, two U.S Senators - Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) - wrote as much in a recent op-ed.

"Any policy debate should start with a clear picture of how the dollars are being spent and whether that money is achieving the desired outcomes," the two lawmakers argued. "Unfortunately, a lack of accurate data makes it impossible to answer many of the most basic questions for students, families and policy makers who are investing significant time and money in higher education."

Errors in data have an adverse effect on higher ed?ucation all the time. Wyden and Rubio cited the example of Marylhurst University, a small liberal arts school in Oregon that was mistakenly attributed with a 0 percent graduation rate by the U.S. Department of Education. Because of bad data management, these mistakes happen.

With more attention to good data in the years ahead, education leaders can do better. They need to take initiative.

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