The Importance of Data Integrity: Community College Rankings Based on Flawed Data?

Enrollment Report Data

Apropos of my recent post about the error uncovered in how Michigan colleges report data to the Federal Government, a story just appeared in Inside Higher Ed about the Washington Monthly’s rankings of Community Colleges in the US.

The Washington Monthly has yet again irked some educators, as it did three years ago, by ranking what it calls “America’s Best Community Colleges” using openly available student engagement survey data.

Using benchmarking data from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) and four-year federal graduation rates in an equation of its own making, the magazine attempts to rank the top 50 community colleges in the country in its latest issue. Though the periodical’s editors say they only hope to highlight “what works and what doesn’t” at these institutions by ranking them, CCSSE officials have denounced the use of their data in this way and argue it may do more harm than good.”

The data available about your organization can and will be used with or without your permission.  With more information being published and the increasing ease with which that data can be used – it’s critical to be aware and vigilant.  Even with the best of intentions on the part of a journalistic entity like the Washington Monthly, it can damage an organization’s reputation (and mislead stakeholders).

In the executive summary explaining their rankings, the Washington Monthly acknowledged the limitations of their methodology and wistfully remarked about the lack of data available:

“Of course, our rankings aren’t perfect. Like the president, we wish we knew how community college graduates fare in the job market and their future careers. We’d like to know if students who transfer to four-year schools get good grades, earn bachelor’s degrees, and go on to graduate and professional schools.”

The upside is that the data they seek may soon be available from other sources.  For example; what if we were able to pull employment data from social networking platforms like Linkedin and Facebook (or even people-oriented search engines like that catch references to employment in press releases and newspapers) and mash it up with the data from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement?

We may soon be able to complete the loop and better track student success (which is a challenge all educational institutions face).

Not only that, but what if we could monitor tweets and Facebook content (there are already algorithms that can evaluate tweets to determine whether they’re positive or negative) to look for warning signs that might allow counseling or student support services to intervene with a student to get them resources before it’s too late and they fail out of classes?

There’s a lot of possibility out there, and it’s up to us to tap into it.

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