AACRAO & CollegeSource partner to create a searchable institutional policy database

November 13, 2020
  • Academic Policy
  • Data Stewardship
  • Records and Academic Services
  • Student Academic Records and Academic Policy
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Last year at this time, AACRAO joined forces with longtime partner CollegeSource to respond to our members request for a searchable database of institutional policy.  While much of higher education has seen disruption since that time, the policy database is well on its way to completion, to be shared with members in the first half of 2021. 

The new resource will allow AACRAO member higher education administrators, faculty, and staff nationwide to research and compare policies contained within catalogs from other institutions in the U.S. Over the past 12 months, CollegeSource has made significant progress towards launch.

Save time and build confidence

AACRAO members are the keepers and creators of a large number of student-facing policies, and often have a need to reference norms or to benchmark themselves against other like institutions in their state or with peer institutions. The process to do this is quite labor intensive, individual and rarely comprehensive. AACRAO has previously explored a number of other options to aggregate and share policies with very limited success before partnering with CollegeSource.

“While modern high-end data collection and processing tools and techniques are appealing, they don’t really work for something as text-based and inconsistent as policies,”  said Dr. Troy Holaday, President of College Source. “To put it frankly, policies aren’t well-organized in most college catalogs. Most of the time there isn’t even a coherent policy section, but rather a set of policies scattered throughout the catalog where they are most relevant. This may make the most sense for the consumer, but it presents special challenges for identifying policies and normalizing them for inclusion in a database. How do we know if we found all the policies? Did we collect the complete policy in each case, correctly identifying the beginning and end of the text? When it comes to the parts of a catalog that are more text-oriented (as compared to things like lists, course entries, tables), algorithms perform poorly. The answer for us is something we are used to and equipped to provide: hard work performed by real people with high-end skills in handling data.”

Pre-COVID, the project goal was to have a functioning product with at least 700 catalogs’ worth of policies in it. As of November 1st, CollegeSource exceeded that goal with policies from more than 900 catalogs processed. The product is currently going through the necessary finishing processes: testing, accessibility checks, final design work, etc. We expect a full release for AACRAO members this spring, in 2021.

“The most interesting facet of this process has really been to observe which policies are common in college catalogs – and which ones aren’t!” Dr. Holaday said. “What we find interesting, as creators of the tool, is the very thing that users of the tool will find interesting. Indeed, I suspect it’s what drove AACRAO to encourage the creation of such a tool. Policy makers need some way to triangulate: to see which policies are out there among schools of a similar profile and how they are worded. We believe it will save policy writers a great deal of time and help them build policies more confidently.”

Learn more

AACRAO members will get their first live look at the database in a webinar Unveiling the First Higher Education Institutional Policy Database on December 2nd at 2pm ET. Dr Holaday will join Deputy Director Melanie Gottlieb to share progress and answer questions about the project.