PDP and Strategic Data Use

In November 2021, SHEEO supported a two-day workshop conducted by ASA Research and Seamless Strategies Group for the South Dakota Board of Technical Education institutions. The goals of the workshop – Know and Use Your Data with the PDP: Where are You? Where Do You Want to Be? How Can You Get There? –were, in part, to increase strategic data use capacity and elevate the usefulness of the Postsecondary Data Partnership (PDP)’s key performance indicators (KPIs). To help facilitate greater state- and institution-level use of the PDP, ASA provided participants with the three tools described below.  

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PDP and Strategic Data Use

Regardless of where your team is in using data and developing your strategic programming, policy, and data plans, you need to…

  • Understand how current and new programs, policies, and strategies can “move the needle” on student success indicators such as PDP Key Performance Indicators. 
  • Set targets to help focus work and ensure efficient operations.
  • Develop a communications plan to ensure that all stakeholders have the right data when they need it and to tell your story.

…PDP data can support your campus’s strategic decision-making, target-setting, equity insights, and communication efforts to improve student success policies, practices, and outcomes.

Strategy and Metrics Map

Where Do You Want to Be? How Can You Get There?

ASA’s Strategy and Metrics Map is a visual framework that supports evidence-based decision-making and illustrates how strategies and programs move student behaviors and outcomes. This ASA tool:

  • Helps to create maps that visualize the linkages between your institution’s programs, policies, and strategies and the PDP KPIs.
  • Illustrates your college’s ability to “move the needle” based on your activities.
  • Facilitates target setting.
  • Is a precursor to developing a monitoring and assessment plan.
  • Helps to set up a communications plan and to tell your story.

The Strategy and Metrics Map provides a step-by-step process for improving student outcomes through PDP data and KPIs.

SMART Target Setting Guide

Status quo policies = Status quo outcomes

Using the SMART model a widely used framework resulting in well-defined targets the ASA SMART Target Setting Guide helps take the guesswork out of target setting and supports campus teams to establish appropriate targets that are…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timebound

…and supportive of your student success work.

The SMART Target Setting Guide provides methodologies, examples, and tips to consider for setting targets, and a template you can use to organize your targets.

Data Communications Planning Guide

Without Facts, You Cannot Act.

ASA’s Data Communications Planning Guide provides tips and a framework for developing a data communications plan for your campus. A campus with a strong data communications plan benefits by…

  • Promoting campus-wide data use.
  • Developing a shared understanding of data definitions and student outcomes.
  • Busting myths and reducing bias from decision-making.
  • Instilling common and collaborative goals.
  • Making informed strategic decisions.

The Data Communications Planning Guide includes tips for developing your data plan and a template for organizing and documenting progress.

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More about ASA Research: ASA conducts workshops and coaching services to help institutions and networks use their student data strategically to drive change as they embark on large-scale student success reforms. Through interactive workshops, webinars, and guided conversations, ASA helps colleges and systems increase their capacity to make strategic use of data by arming them with customized models, guides, and tools such as those provided above. Please contact Sue Clery at ASA Research (sclery@asa-research.com) or visit www.asa-research.com for more information about these tools and ASA workshops and webinars.

Acknowledgment: The ASA workshop resources are provided by SHEEO in part through funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The recommendations and conclusions contained within are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Four Examples of Using PDP Metrics for State-Level Planning and Analysis

The Postsecondary Data Partnership (PDP) is a nationwide effort to help institutions and state systems gain a fuller picture of student progress and outcomes, meet various reporting requirements, and identify where to focus their resources. The partnership is dedicated to the idea that easier access to better data helps higher education professionals develop actionable insights and make informed decisions to support student success. This blog post highlights four specific examples for using PDP data at the state level: state higher education strategic plans and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), early momentum metrics, educational attainment models, and equity gap analysis.

State Higher Education Strategic Plans and Key Performance Indicators
Data for state higher education strategic plans and KPIs should focus on high-level data elements that include all postsecondary students, are common measures within the field, and can be easily viewed at both the state and institution level. The PDP accomplishes all three of these objectives. First, it collects information on all new incoming students, including first time in college and transfer students, full-time and part-time students, and students beginning in the fall, spring, or summer terms. Second, the PDP is based on the Institute for Higher Education Policy’s (IHEP) Postsecondary Metrics Framework.[1] IHEP staff reviewed a decade’s worth of data elements and their definitions collected by national, state, and voluntary data collections in an attempt to bring consensus to the field regarding common data elements. The Postsecondary Metrics Framework is part of a larger effort for a more inclusive national data infrastructure that enables researchers and policymakers to better understand equity and student success. This work also helps support the validity of data elements and their importance in helping to understand barriers and improve student success. Third, online PDP Tableau dashboards provide state leadership with the ability to look at data at the state level and at individual institutions. Dashboard images can be saved to PowerPoint and Word documents, and aggregate dashboard data can be downloaded for further analysis.

Early Momentum Metrics

Traditionally, higher education has focused on lagging student outcomes, such as graduation rates. However, as we become more data-informed and understand how students move through the education space, it is more important to focus on leading, early, momentum metrics to help with decision-making. Research out of the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia University Teacher’s College evaluating the impact of credit momentum, gateway course momentum, and persistence momentum indicates that these early momentum metrics are strong predictors of student completion rates.[2] All three of these measures are part of the PDP, and dashboard data can be filtered by multiple dimensions at the same time, such as race/ethnicity, enrollment intensity, and academic preparation, to create targeted subgroups. Further, the PDP also collects early momentum data on developmental education courses and GPA.

State Educational Attainment Models

State educational attainment has been a driving force for state policy for over a decade, and reports such as Lumina’s Stronger Nation have helped highlight this work. Through our Communities of Practice project, SHEEO has also helped in this area by bringing together state teams to discuss how to model educational attainment. The state of Oregon has done great work visualizing education pathways from high school through postsecondary education.[3] PDP data on enrollment and early momentum metrics can add great benefit to educational attainment models. As states adjust early momentum metrics, such as gateway completion and retention in attainment models, they can gain a better sense of outcomes and how that impacts your state’s attainment rates. 

Equity Gap Analyses

One of the best PDP tools is the subgroup gap analysis within many of the dashboards that let viewers compare two specific groups of students on a specific measure. The subgroup gap analysis is a great way to visualize differences in equity, and the image can be easily downloaded for sharing. The image below shows an example of an equity subgroup analysis comparing gateway course completion for Black or African American students compared to white students. Looking at the data for the most recent three years, we see that the equity gaps decreased, but a larger four-year look does not show a consistent downward trend.

More information on the PDP can be found on the National Student Clearinghouse’s website and SHEEO’s PDP toolkit


[1] Postsecondary Metrics Framework. (2016). Institute for Higher Education Policy. Available at http://www.ihep.org/postsecdata/resources-reports/metrics-framework-technical-guide

[2] Belfield, C. R., Jenkins, D., & Fink, J. (2019). Early momentum metrics: Leading indicators for community college improvement. Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center. Available at https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/publications/early-momentum-metrics-leading-indicators.html

[3] http://data.oregonlearns.org/?

Breaking Down Barriers to Data Use with the Postsecondary Data Partnership (PDP)

A recent report from the American Council of Education, Tools in a Toolbox: Leading Change in Community Colleges, notes that “data provide an entry point, even an excuse, to bring individuals together to cognitively engage in a learning process to identify new institutional practices for improvement” (Lester, 2020 p. iii)[1] Of course, this is easier said than done. Each step in the process of transforming data into meaningful, actionable information has potential roadblocks. For example, campus administrators may question the validity of the data, or the way data are analyzed. Faculty may have additional concerns that the data are being used for critical evaluations of their teaching methods and abilities. For transformative data use to be successful, college staff must believe that leadership values the data, understand and accept the validity of the data, and be able to and want to act on the data.

The Postsecondary Data Partnership[2] (PDP) is a response to a call to action for the higher education community to improve the use of data to increase student success and helps address many of the concerns listed above that hinder data use on college campuses. The PDP, managed by the National Student Clearinghouse (Clearinghouse), is a nationwide effort to help individual institutions and state systems gain a fuller picture of student progress and outcomes, meet various reporting requirements, and identify where to focus their resources. The partnership is dedicated to the idea that easier access to better data helps higher education professionals develop actionable insights and make informed decisions to support student success. The PDP helps institutions and states be transformative in their data use in four key areas: (1) It empowers the use of data at the campus and state-level; (2) It helps create a uniform language and understanding of higher education data; (3) It includes data on all students; and (4) It gives senior leaders the information needed to more accurately tackle significant state-level issues, such as educational attainment and equity gaps. These four areas are explained in more detailed below.

First, the PDP empowers institutions with better data and access to analytics through online Tableau dashboards[3] (see Figure 1) and an easy-to-access downloadable analysis file. The Clearinghouse currently has nearly a dozen Key Performance Indicator dashboards that include visualizations for enrollment, gateway course completion, credit accumulation rate, outcomes, retention/persistence, transfer, and time to credential data. These dashboards can be easily filtered by metrics such as enrollment intensity, academic preparedness, race/ethnicity, gender, first-generation status, Pell grant status, and other important variables. A Tableau administrator for each institution has the ability to add dashboard users so that this important data can be shared across the entire campus and different functional offices. These dashboards are available online and do not require an institution to purchase Tableau software. The Clearinghouse is also developing the ability to benchmark within the dashboards. In addition to the dashboards, institutions also receive data through an Analysis-Ready File, an excel file report where each student’s data are included on a single row, allowing users to create descriptive statistics, pivot tables easily, or utilize the data for more extensive analysis. For example, institutions can use PDP data for predictive analytics or create their own cohorts for tracking students based on local institutional initiatives.

Figure 1: Example Executive Summary PDP Tableau Dashboard

Image Source: National Student Clearinghouse, PDP Executive Summary Dashboard Tutorial Video

Second, PDP data definitions are based on the Institute for Higher Education Policy’s (IHEP) Postsecondary Metrics Framework[4]. IHEP staff reviewed a decade’s worth of data elements and their definitions collected by national, state, and voluntary data collections in an attempt to bring consensus to the field regarding common data elements. The Postsecondary Metrics Framework is part of a larger effort for a more inclusive national data infrastructure that enables researchers and policymakers to understand equity and student success better. This work also helps support the validity of data elements and their importance in helping to understand barriers and improve student success.  

Third, the PDP includes data on all students at your institution. Unlike other data collections that only include first-time, full-time students or students entering in the fall, the PDP collects information on every student at your institution, regardless of when they started in the year, their enrollment intensity (full or part-time), or if they are a first-time student in higher education or a transfer. This allows institutions to get a full picture of student progress and success, rather than only a partial view.

Finally, like many institution-wide initiatives, it takes senior leadership advocating for the project to be successful. With early-momentum metrics measuring first-year progression through gateway course completion and credit accumulation, the PDP allows senior executives to more accurately understand the impact of the first year of college and is invaluable to both institutions and state systems as they look to increase educational rates and close equity gaps. State leaders should find this information incredibly useful as they seek to better understand and find ways to improve the success of their students.

Tools in a Toolbox: Leading Change in Community Colleges provides four key takeaways for leading change at community colleges that is also applicable to four-year institutions and other higher education sectors. First, leaders should have an explicit change theory and plan that is clear and provides goals. Implementing the PDP to support data-informed decision making can be one aspect of this plan. Second, leadership should be developed to assist in engaging the entire community. This leadership team can also serve as advocates to the PDP work, promoting its use around campus. Third, data and information should be communicated with the community, an aspect where the PDP excels because it allows anyone (with access) to view data. Finally, the vision for change should be communicated in everyday decisions. The PDP can be this vehicle for data-informed decision making that impacts all areas of campus culture and student support.

To learn more about the PDP, you can contact the Clearinghouse via email at PDPService@studentclearinghouse.org, or reach out to Eric Godin at SHEEO.


[1] Lester, Jaime. (2020). Tools in a toolbox: Leading change in community colleges. American Council on Education.

[2] Postsecondary Data Partnership webpage, National Student Clearinghouse. Available at https://www.studentclearinghouse.org/colleges/pdp/

[3] Video tutorials for the PDP Tableau dashboard’s are available at https://www.studentclearinghouse.org/colleges/pdp/video-tours/

[4] Postsecondary Metrics Framework. Institute for Higher Education Policy. Available at http://www.ihep.org/postsecdata/resources-reports/metrics-framework-technical-guide