Higher-Ed Groups Seek a More-Complete Picture of Post-College Outcomes

January 09, 2015

Three major higher-education groups on Thursday introduced a framework that seeks to guide public discussions of the value of a college education, at a time when many institutions are facing heightened scrutiny over their cost and how well their graduates do.

The effort, known as the Post-Collegiate Outcomes Initiative, is a project of the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

The groups’ framework divides student outcomes into four overlapping categories: public and private, and economic and "human capital." Public, "human capital" outcomes of college could include activities such as giving to charity, volunteering, and voting. Personal, "human capital" outcomes could include career satisfaction and advancement.

Some metrics, like employment and reliance on social services, are considered as both personal and public economic outcomes.

The associations were part of the group that in 2013 introduced the Student Achievement Measure, which was presented to colleges as an alternative to the federal government’s oft-criticized method of calculating students’ college-completion rates, which leaves out part-time and transfer students.

Like that measure, the Post-Collegiate Outcomes Initiative is financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is part of the commitment that the associations made at the White House’s Summit on College Opportunity, in December, where they pledged to provide more-accurate and more-comprehensive measures of student outcomes. The groups’ effort also seeks "consistent and meaningful measurement tools" for reporting such outcomes.

The effort comes on the heels of the Education Department’s release, in December, of a framework for a college-ratings plan. The plan seeks to hold institutions accountable for the outcomes of their graduates, and to give students more information about which colleges to attend. Some educators have worried that the plan will punish institutions that serve low-income students; others have complained that the data that could be used in the ratings are flawed.

Broadening the Conversation

Kent A. Phillippe, director of the Post-Collegiate Outcomes Initiative and associate vice president for research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges, said in an interview following the rollout of the framework here that while it was not a response to the department’s metrics, it will offer a broader perspective of postcollegiate outcomes.

National conversations about earnings and gainful employment, Mr. Phillippe said, "crystallized the importance of doing this at this time."

The idea, he said, is not necessarily to hold any one institution accountable, but rather to broaden the national conversation about what the value of higher education looks like.

Not all of the data points listed in the framework are available now. And Ronnie L. Booth, co-chairman of the initiative’s oversight committee and president of Tri-County Technical College, in South Carolina, said it’s important to note that every measure in the framework might not be appropriate for every institution.

Considering context for each institution is important too, he said. Factors such as students’ location and major or career choice can affect salary.

"Even things like voter participation—a lot of that’s regional-based, a lot of that’s based on the local culture," Mr. Booth said. "It may or may not be related to higher education."

In the next few months, the group plans to refine the framework and continue seeking different perspectives.

For instance, groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation were included in discussions to represent employers’ perspectives.

In a panel discussion here, Sandra Kinney, vice president for institutional research and planning for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said using the framework had already helped break down "higher-education silos" in her state.

The next steps and the initiative’s policy recommendations will be released by late March, Mr. Phillippe said.