Better Data Are Key to Improved Performance by Students and Colleges

As college costs and student-debt levels continue to rise, the public and policy makers are increasingly demanding evidence of a return on their investment. Yet, says a new report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, consumers lack critical information that would help them answer the trillion-dollar question “Is college worth it?”

The problem, according to the report’s author, Jennifer Engle, is not that the data to answer that question don’t exist, but that they’re not widely available or accessible to the public. The result, she said in an interview, is that “we can’t answer some really basic questions about the value of higher education.”

In the report, Ms. Engle describes a “framework” of measures that she says would provide a more robust and more complete picture of student and institutional performance. The framework, which contains gauges in use by many of the foundation’s grantees, focuses on three core principles: “count all students,” “count all outcomes,” and “costs count.”

The foundation, which has spent millions of dollars in its effort to improve college completion and close attainment gaps, will push for widespread adoption of the measures and use the framework to evaluate the effect of its investments, according to the report.

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