Equity and effectiveness are two principles for administrative, curricular, and pedagogical decision making in higher education. They are invoked in many accountability policies. In this context, equitable policies and practices are those that close gaps in college access, quality of experience, and degree outcomes that currently exist between members of traditionally privileged and traditionally marginalized racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Effective policies and practices are those that enable an institution to realize its mission while sustaining itself financially to meet the needs of future generations. Institutions of higher education have multifaceted missions, which often makes it difficult to gauge effectiveness. In this context, state and federal policymakers are adopting accountability policies that require college administrators to evaluate their judgments through contextualized data use and reporting.
Bringing Accountability to Life: How Savvy Data Users Find the “Accountable N” to Improve Equity and Sustainability in Higher Education, from authors Alicia C. Dowd, Keith Witham, Debbie Hanson, Cheryl D. Ching, Román Liera, and Marlon Fernandez Castro, provides a humanistic perspective on data-informed decision making in higher education. It identifies and celebrates the many ways savvy data users in institutions of higher education are helping college students navigate barriers to academic success and—even more importantly—taking steps to remove those barriers. The technical and humanistic aspects of data use are both important, but data do not drive decisions—people do. Illustrating the need for “different data for different folks,” this report highlights the valuable uses of administrative data, which are organic in nature, and of accountability data, which are synthetic in nature.