Modernizing a Postsecondary Data Infrastructure
RTI and our partners from the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) worked to advise the modernization of postsecondary data infrastructures. We gathered insights from experts, state systems, higher education associations, and more to discuss issues that the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) would need to consider to successfully create and implement a Student-Level Data Network (SLDN).
Building A Federal Student-Level Data Network (SLDN)
There is a steadily growing consensus around a critical issue in our nation’s higher education system: the need to modernize our postsecondary data infrastructure. Recognizing that building the Student-Level Data Network (SLDN) outlined in pending federal legislation will require the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to make key decisions around design, construction, and implementation, the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) partnered with RTI to gather insights to inform the creation of an SLDN.
Implementing a federal student-level data network: Advice from experts
“Implementing a Student-Level Data Network: Advice from Experts,” shares the insights from a conversation with 15 experts from institutions, state systems, think tanks, and higher education associations. This brief outlines the data elements and definitional options needed to meet pending legislative requirements, maximize the quality and utility of the data, and minimize the burden on institutions. The postsecondary data elements fit in five categories: enrollment and completion; financial aid; demographics; post-completion outcomes; and institutional characteristics. The brief also highlights areas of postsecondary data infrastructure that need further investigation and identifies the most pressing near-term topics in order to provide NCES and the legislatively-mandated Advisory Committee a foundation from which to start.
Implementing a federal student-level data network (part II): Insights from institutional representatives
The current federal postsecondary data landscape, although composed of high-quality data that helps stakeholders answer some questions related to students and their outcomes, has gaps that leave many questions unanswered. Only by deliberately engaging all stakeholders will NCES be able to thoughtfully design a postsecondary data system that simultaneously meets legislative requirement and augments institutions' understanding of how they serve their students. In September 2020, RTI and IHEP convened a second forum, which focused on data submission to an SLDN from the institution perspective, and this brief captures the key points of that discussion.
Implementing a federal student-level data network (part III): Insights from financial aid experts
Although the current federal postsecondary data landscape comprises high-quality data on a range of indicators, it has gaps that leave many important questions from policymakers, institutions, and students unanswered. During the previous two SLDN forums, panelists raised a number of issues related to potential financial aid variables in a student-level data network; these concerns led RTI and IHEP to engage financial aid professionals in May 2021 for the third forum. This brief captures the key points of that discussion for consideration by NCES. We do not draw conclusions or recommend solutions in this brief; our intention is to raise awareness about important issues that NCES and the SLDN designers will face if Congress mandates an SLDN.
Implementing a federal student-level data network (part IV): Exploring design options
The fourth and most recent SLDN forum was held in May 2022 and is the focus of this report, centering around three potential models for a federal SLDN, each separately devised by pairs of experts knowledgeable in student-level postsecondary data collection efforts. Participants attending the forum provided feedback and identified areas for further exploration related to each design, as captured in this report. We do not draw conclusions or recommend solutions in this brief; our intention is to raise awareness about important issues that NCES and the SLDN designers will face if Congress mandates an SLDN.
Learning from Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS)
Building a Student-Level Data Network (SLDN) as outlined in pending federal legislation will be a complex and challenging undertaking. Fortunately, however, nearly all U.S. states have already built, or are building, state-level data systems which integrate education data from multiple sources. Learning from the experiences of these states can help inform how best to build a federal data system. This brief, SLDN Landscape and Recommendations, explores those lessons learned and articulates several high-level recommendations. The brief, and the accompanying blog post, describes and shares many of those lessons learned.
- Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP)