Kristin Blagg, Erica Blom, Robert Kelchen, Carina Chien
February 11, 2021
Policymakers have expressed increased interest in program-level higher education accountability measures as a supplement to, or in place of, institution-level metrics. But it is unclear what these measures should look like. In this report, we assess the ways program-level data could be developed to facilitate federal accountability.
Evidence shows that what students study matters as much as, if not more than, where they study. Program-level measures can provide important data on student outcomes, which will allow policymakers to hold institutions and programs that receive federal funding accountable. But program-level measures are difficult to develop. Program definitions must be large enough to be assessed but distinct enough to be meaningful, and any measure should be insulated against potential gaming.
Using national data, we assess how pooling program data by year, as well as by subject (using Classification of Instructional Programs, or CIP, codes), can yield sufficient program-level metrics. In analyzing approaches to this question, we work from three principles: program definitions must include all eligible students, maintain student privacy, and provide a meaningful metric (i.e., not combine dissimilar programs or credentials). Using these principles to guide our analyses, we arrive at the following.