Data on higher education needs to be published

Freedom New Mexico

One potential benefit of a tight budget is the opportunity to assess priorities and goals. That’s true for a family or a business. And it’s especially true for a government, which, by definition, depends on taxes taken from people.

This month California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report, “Improving Higher Education Oversight,” that examined the state’s university systems. The main finding: There isn’t enough “pertinent data” to gauge the performance of the state schools.

The LAO report said that last year Gov. Jerry Brown shut down the California Postsecondary Education Commission to save money in the budget. The governor, it noted, “requested that stakeholders explore alternative ways these functions could be fulfilled.”

We’re all for cutting bureaucracy, so no great loss there. The challenge now is to use existing resources to produce better outcomes. The LAO report recommended that the “Legislature delegate technical decisions about specific measures and reporting protocols to a technical working group with representatives from the administration, legislative staff” and the “segments” — the three university systems — as well as higher-education researchers.

That seems reasonable to us. So does a requirement that reports measure results “clearly and concisely” — no education-ese, as critics call it — and that the Legislature “convene regular oversight hearings to review progress and consider policy changes.”

But the LAO also recommended establishing a new “formal oversight body.” We believe that’s not needed. It would be enough to gather good data, put it on the Internet for people to discuss and then debate the data in the Legislature.

“It’s good for them to focus on accountability,” said Lance Izumi, an education policy analyst for the Pacific Research Institute. “The important thing is, we need good data. It’s up to the different higher-education segments to track the progress of students, to see how they’re doing in college and, hopefully, achieve the goal of graduating. The segments also need to work with each other to make sure all of them have that type of data system.”

The university segments should start implementing these systems now. It shouldn’t be that difficult to produce good numbers on graduation rates and the availability of crucial courses. Just publishing the data should prod the universities to do a better job.