4Qs: Graham Pearce Talks Data & Decisions

Graham Pearce

Student Body President

UW-Marshfield/Wood County

Major: Associate of Arts & Sciences in Mathematics

Graduation Year: 2016

Student Population: 628

We like to be informed before we make a decision. We have Yelp to pick restaurants. We have CarMax to buy cars. But we don’t really have anything comparable to select the right college, let alone degree programs. High quality, more widely-available data is essential to success in and after college. The U.S. Department of Education released a more robust College Scorecard system to leverage data and improve students’ decision-making, but policymakers nationwide recognize there is a long way to go. Graham Pearce, Student Body President at University of Wisconsin – Marshfield/Wood County, spoke with us about his thoughts on student access to data, and how it could benefit graduation rates and loan repayment.

As student body president – or as a student yourself—what kind of info or data do you think would be helpful in choosing a college, major, career, etc?

One of the big ones that comes to mind is the correlation between institution and future earnings potential, as well as degree completion and loan default rates. Having access to data on average return by degree program would be valuable as well. From a 2-year campus perspective, information about the transfer rates and degree-completion success of students for each 2-year institution would be a great decision-making tool, as it would indicate the effectiveness of the campus in preparing students for their destination 4-year institution.

When it comes to efficiency, performance, and equity, how do you think better data could be useful?

Once a student gets started at their chosen campus, there’s a lot more that could be done to provide personalized data on progress toward a degree program or other goals. Here in Wisconsin we struggle with having the budget for the level of individual attention in advising that would be ideal, and our recent cuts at the state level have made that problem worse. I think a lot of the ongoing needs of providing students with data about their progress could be done through a dashboard, sort of like a video game shows you progress toward achievements. Putting this information front-and-center throughout a student’s career would help to keep students on track and more likely to graduate on time (and with less debt.) Academic advising will always need to involve some personal conversations, but we need to be using technology to supplement this.

Do you think students think about what data they have when they’re making higher ed decisions? Do you think they want more data to make more informed decisions?

I think, for the most part, we don’t realize what we might be missing in the availability of data – particularly the data we can’t get because of the Student Unit Record ban. It’s easy to assume that college rankings translate directly into earnings potential, but that’s not necessarily true, and statistics like completion, employment, and debt load are even harder to take into account. We can’t start making decisions based on that data until we have it in front of us.

Why do you think it’s important to provide students with data about college majors, potential earnings, etc?

We shouldn’t be in the dark about what we’re getting for our money. Each student spends a substantial amount of time and money on higher ed, and we should be as informed as possible about the difference between institutions. Key elements of student outcomes, cost and real ROI metrics would be valuable data to have, and it could help students weigh pros and cons such as loan repayability and future opportunities for graduate education against their personal goals. We don’t have access to the fine-grained information that’s needed to really compare institutions side-by-side on what’s important, and that means we’re not always making the most optimal decisions.

 

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