News: State Policy & Advocacy

Illinois Offers Case Study on Pairing Higher Education Data and Consumer Education

Thursday, October 25, 2018  
Posted by: Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate
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The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) recently launched an online consumer information tool called College2Career that allows users to review student outcomes data for each of the state’s community colleges and more than 60 of its four-year universities. Equally important as the availability of the website, though, is ISAC’s effort to ensure that the data make it into the hands of prospective college students and that they are able to leverage it to best effect. 

Since its release last month, ISAC has worked hard statewide to educate counselors, nonprofit leaders, and state officials about the tool. Furthermore, they will include information about the tool in more than 1,000 direct service workshops across Illinois in October as part of College Changes Everything Month.

Jacqueline Moreno, managing director of college access initiatives at ISAC, acknowledged that making the tool available is a great first step, but it is vital that stakeholders access the site and understand what the data mean. “If they don’t know that it’s out there, or don’t understand how to make the most of it, it’s not useful,” she said. This is an essential undertaking, as some evidence indicates that students will not use a consumer information tool if it is not designed to meet their needs and reach them where they are.

Illinois is by no means alone in its mission to help students make more informed college choices. Other states, and even Congress, have taken up legislation that is aimed at doing just that.

At the federal level, calls for better data are loud, bipartisan, and clear. There is a wide consensus that – despite recent improvements – federal data availability is inadequate, particularly as it pertains to the ability to measure equity. This has led to a remarkably large group of senators from both parties to call for a student-level data network to be housed at the U.S. Department of Education.

Such a move would produce a gold mine for researchers and broadly enhance institutional transparency. But it would only reach its full potential if coupled with a concerted effort to arm every student with this invaluable information. 

At the state level, 42 legislatures considered 300 bills that touched on the issue of education data in 2018. This includes Virginia, which passed a law requiring institutions that participate in the state’s financial aid program to make certain student outcomes public, such as employment rates and earnings, and to provide these data to each student they admit. 

It is crucial that policymakers at both levels consider the most efficient means of translating improved data policy to improved student outcomes. These improvements will not be maximized, however, unless potential college-goers and their families can ably use the data. As more higher education consumer information becomes available, relevant parties would be remiss to not combine these breakthroughs with a delivery and user education component that matches the rigor of ISAC’s.