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V6I3: Update on NWCCU’s Data Dashboard and Decision Support System

Jess Stahl, Vice President for Data Science and Analytics, NWCCU  

As the Spring 2024 accreditation cycle begins, I want to share some exciting updates about NWCCU’s decision support system and how it supports NWCCU’s mission to apply data- and evidence- informed standards and processes to support continuous improvements and equitable student achievement and success.   

Over the past several years, we have been continuously improving our data systems and processes. Since 2020, we have developed and implemented a robust, cloud-based data warehouse and created a core set of dashboards with key indicators related to enrollment, outcomes, and basic financial data to support our staff liaisons, peer evaluators, and Board of Commissioners. In Fall 2023, we began to publish the dashboards on our website, along with an annual report based on data from the National Advisory Council on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) that provides an holistic overview of our member institutions. 

Data dashboards found on NWCCU’s website.

You may have noticed that we refer to our data system as a “decision support system”, which naturally raises the question, “What kinds of decisions is this data system used to support?”.  I want to reassure you that we do not use our dashboards or other data tools to make automated or solely “data-driven” decisions regarding accreditation. Rather, we use our data system to gather a significant amount of relevant data from multiple sources across the postsecondary data ecosystem, synthesize those data so that we can use it in ways that are meaningful for accreditation purposes, and present the information to our stakeholders in ways that are useful and productive.  In other words, we use our decision support system to synthesize and integrate the wealth of data available, transform the data into “user-friendly” visual and written formats so that our stakeholders can make use of the relevant information in support of our mission to be data- and evidence-informed. 

The most essential data sources that we draw upon are (1) primarily, the data provided directly by member institutions (i.e., your institution’s reports and Annual Report) and (2) secondarily, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is a part of the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) within the U.S. Department of Education (ED).   

The dashboards presented on our website are based on the following IPEDS data:  

  • Enrollment: total enrollment with five-year % change, part-time and full-time, graduate, and undergraduate FTE Fall enrollment with five-year % change. 
  • Graduation Rate: total cohort; bachelor’s degree within 100%, 150%, and 200% of normal time; degree/certificate within 100%, 150%, 200% time; by Pell/Gender (within six years), transfer out rate.

Starting in Spring 2024, we are beginning to including on an experimental basis for institutions undergoing the Year-Seven, Evaluation of Institutional Effectiveness (EIE), benchmarking (median) data based on Carnegie Classification (i.e., “C18Basic”) over a five-year period (2017-2021) for Total Enrollment, FTE Fall Enrollment, Graduation Rate Total Cohort, Bachelor’s Degree within 200% of normal time, Degree/Certificate within 200% of normal time. The data, based solely on Carnegie Classification, is categorized as “National Peers” (all institutions nationally with the same Carnegie Classification) or “NWCCU Peers” (all NWCCU accredited institutions with the same Carnegie Classification). In future, benchmarking data provided will include the peer sets identified in the IPEDS Data Feedback Report (i.e., “Comparison Group”, which is either defined by the institution as a custom comparison group or, if none is provided by the institution, a comparison group selected by NCES) and the institution’s self-identified (national and regional) peers. 

Also, recognizing that many students undertake postsecondary education specifically as a means to attain upward economic mobility, we will also consider additional data such as post-college earnings provided via the Equitable Value Explorer (EVE) developed by the Postsecondary Value Commission. Specifically, we will provide institutions undergoing an EIE and their peer evaluators with the following EVE data: completion rate, time to credential, earnings 10 years after initial enrollment, cumulative net price, price to earnings premium, and default rate. Likewise, we also consider Price to Earnings Premium data (when available), which aims to measure the number of years it takes students to recoup the net cost of earning a credential at the institution using a formula that divides “total average net price” by (“post-enrollment earnings” minus “typical salary of a high school graduate in the institution’s state”). 

In addition to receiving access to the online dashboards, each institution undergoing an EIE in the Spring 2024 cycle and their peer evaluators have been provided a workshop, access to a custom data analysis of key indicators as a starting point for data-informed dialogue, and data consultation. We are also pleased to provide our stakeholders, including the public, access to meaningful institutional data. 

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