Bring on the Data: How might we create new measures to help us assess the value of education and communicate this value to students, parents and educators?

May 15, 2017
Chris Flanagan

In the last decade, as college tuition has spiraled ever upward and median family income has fallen, students and their families are increasingly asking what they’re getting in return and if it’s worth the cost to go to any college, for any degree. Return on investment (ROI), a term once reserved for investing in the housing and stock markets, is now a fundamental part of the conversation about the value of higher ed in today’s fast-moving economy among students, parents, and policymakers.

As we think about defining the value of higher ed, how might we extend the ROI lens to better define the public good of higher education and the outcomes it delivers? What measures should we use? What data is currently available? Here are three places trying to bring greater transparency and connection into the system:

College Measures
  • Seven participating states: AR, CO, MN, TN, TX, VA, and WA.
  • Matches statewide earnings data from unemployment insurance records with graduates from higher-education institutions within the participating states.
  • Families and lawmakers use interactive tools to determine salaries of graduates from specific academic programs at individual institutions.
  • Search tool for TN/CO pairs jobs and skills most in demand in the state with information on academic programs/institutions that help students get those jobs.
Burning Glass (Boston, MA)
  • A labor-market analytics firm
  • Scrapes the data from millions of job ads to find the key trends defining today’s labor market.
  • Provides critical data for students, parents, and policymakers to have “real-time” information on the supply of jobs and demand for skills.
  • Produces a stream of useful reports that illustrate the dynamics of industries and professions.
  • One example: looked at 20m job ads and compiled the most requested baseline skills. Just 25 skills appeared in 3 out 4 job ads.


Education Consumer Pulse
  • Research platform from Gallup and Strada Education Network profiling education consumer insights.
  • The survey measures the opinions, experiences, and expectations of prospective, current and former students. The survey includes questions such as whether the coursework that people took is directly relevant to their jobs and whether they would recommend their educational path to other people like them.
  • Latest (and important) finding: 51% of adults would change at least 1 education decision if they could do it over and 36% of degree holders regret their choice of major.


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