Risky Business: Promises and Pitfalls of Institutional Transparency
Kuh, George D.
Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, v. 39 n. 5 p. 30-35 Sep-Oct 2007
After a year of public hearings and not-so-private debate, the National Commission on the Future of Higher Education last year proposed six sweeping recommendations to improve “the less than inspiring realities of postsecondary education” in the United States (“A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education,” U.S. Department of Education, September 2006). One key recommendation was creation of a “consumer-friendly information database” on issues such as cost, price, and student success, to enable prospective students to compare colleges and universities in order to make informed decisions about where to attend college. According to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who formed the commission, the goal is to provide answers to the kind of questions typically asked when consumers make major purchases: How much does it cost? What are the financing options? How does the “product” perform compared to others like it? Common reporting templates will likely employ institution-level data in the form of raw or adjusted average scores, depending on the measure, and, while improvement, transparency, and accountability are all desirable ends, there is always the possibility that such data can be misused or misinterpreted. In this article, the author offers three principles that will help maximize the benefit and minimize the potential mischief of making performance information public: (1) Focus on educationally meaningful indicators that are linked to student success in the context of the institution’s mission; (2) Evaluate the quality of the data on which performance indicators are based; and (3) Use performance indicators appropriately. (Contains 1 table and 10 resources.)