Statement by AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine on the New Expansion of IPEDS and the Need for Lifting Restrictions on Federal Data Collection

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Statement by AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine on the New Expansion of IPEDS and the Need for Lifting Restrictions on Federal Data Collection

October 12, 2017

In the following statement, Felice J. Levine, Executive Director of the American Educational Research Association, praises the National Center for Education Statistics for providing important new college completion data through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and calls on Congress to lift restrictions preventing necessary additional data collection and research.

Three cheers for the expansion of data collected through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). We see the benefits of fuller college completion data in the release today by the National Center for Education Statistics. It is a significant step forward in better understanding student and institutional outcomes. We now have available information that far better reflects the contemporary landscape of higher education, where a majority of students are no longer full-time, first-time students who enter college directly from high school; where many students transfer institutions once or more; and where a growing number of students are earning non-degree credentials. This data will not only open up new avenues for high-quality research and enhance sound, evidence-based policymaking, but also help students and families make better informed college choices.

However, large gaps in what we know about student and college outcomes still exist—and will continue to exist—until Congress lifts restrictions that prevent national collection of student-level data in a rigorously privacy-protected system. It is only through such a system that students and families, policymakers, and the general public will have access to high-quality information about postsecondary outcomes. This information is needed to help inform many important decisions, from life-changing individual choices to public policies that affect a $500 billion sector of the economy.

The bipartisan Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking last month called on federal policymakers to “consider repealing current bans and limiting future bans on the collection and use of data for evidence building.” In its report to Congress, the commission noted:

[W]ith modern privacy-enhancing technologies, a well-developed legal framework, and a strong commitment to transparency, the Commission believes it is possible to use data to evaluate the effectiveness of policies and ensure accountability to stakeholders, while also protecting privacy. The Commission also believes it is incumbent on the Congress and the President to regularly and thoroughly consider the value of policies that preclude evidence building against the prospective public value of the evidence that could be produced.

Large individual and public investments in higher education are at stake, and the current patchwork of postsecondary education data systems in the United States can provide only incomplete information on outcomes. It is vital that Congress lift the ban on a national system that can better serve the public interest and inform policymaking, while remaining aligned with privacy protection.    

About AERA
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on Facebook and Twitter.