Using Data for Policy Change

April 21, 2014

States seeking to increase the number of young adults and workers obtaining valuable postsecondary credentials can help achieve that goal by collecting data on student success. States can use the data to identify student achievement gaps and leaks in the educational pipeline, improve education and training programs, identify transition issues, and evaluate the effectiveness of state education and workforce development strategies as a whole.

Promising state approaches include:

  • Establishing authority for data sharing and developing the capacity to link data systems to track student outcomes over time, across education and training sectors and into the labor market;
  • Creating indicators of student success that include data on progress in basic skills and workforce education, for both credit and non-credit programs and part-time and full-time students;
  • Using incentives to institutions and students to reward student success at reaching critical education and career pathway milestones;
  • Identifying gaps in student achievement and developing strategies to close them;
  • Making timelines for credential completion flexible to accommodate the realities of low-skilled adults’ lives, such as having to work while attending college;
  • Helping local education and training institutions use data for program improvement; and
  • Evaluating the performance of programs and providers.

National Resources for State Policy Makers

Complete to Compete: Common College Completion Metrics.
Ryan Reyna. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (2010).

This report recommends a set of common metrics that states should use to improve the completion rates and efficiency of public higher education systems.  These common metrics were developed by a Work Group on Common College Completion Metrics, convened by the National Governors Association, which sought to develop common standards for public higher education that states should use to monitor system performance and inform future policy decisions. The suggested metrics include both standard outcome metrics as well as metrics to evaluate interim progress of students.

Calculating the Productivity of Innovation: Using a Simplified Cost-Benefit Analysis to Promote Effective Practice.
Kristin Corash and Elaine DeLott Baker. Colorado Community College System (2009).

The study discussed in this report examined how a cost-benefit analysis system could be used to evaluate the long term fiscal and outcomes impacts of innovative programs, such as integrated ESL classes or adult development education. This approach is novel because in more commonly used enrollment-driven approaches to evaluation, program improvement is seen as a cost rather than a potential investment in increased retention, and by extension, revenues. The data used for the report is from the Community College of Denver’s English as a Second Language Learning Community pilot, but the method could be extrapolated for use on a variety of programs and scales.

Building and Strengthening State Data Systems to Measure Community College and Workforce Outcomes.
Jennifer Philips. Working Poor Families Project (2009).

This policy brief examines the issues associated with creating, improving and connecting state postsecondary, adult education and skills development data systems. It also identifies barriers states may encounter and overcome, profiles model state systems, and makes policy recommendations to help state advocates build or improve their state data systems.

Performance Accountability Systems for Community Colleges: Lessons for the Voluntary Framework of Accountability for Community Colleges.
Kevin Dougherty, Rachel Hare, and Rebecca Natow.  Community College Research Center (2009).

This study, commissioned by the Community College Research Center (CCRC), identifies performance measures that 10 states are already using for their community colleges, explores how well those measures articulate with the data demanded by IPEDS and the regional accrediting associations, and sheds light on the experiences of state higher education officials and local community college leaders with the collection and use of state performance data. The results of this study will inform the development of a Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) for Community Colleges to ensure that the effectiveness and contributions of community colleges are properly measured. 

The Ideal State Postsecondary Data System: 15 Essential Characteristics and Required Functionality.
Peter Ewell and HansL'Orange. NCHEMS/SHEEO (2009).

In this paper, Peter Ewell and Hans L’Orange discuss the importance of Student Unit Recoard Systems (SUR) that contain an individual electronic record for each student. The authors outline 15 essential elements that a postsecondary data set should have to inform a complete analysis of educational pipeline issues and outcomes.

Community College Data and Performance Measurement Toolkit.
Peter Ewell. University of Texas at Austin (2008).

This toolkit, prepared for the Bridges to Opportunity initiative, describes how states can use longitudinal data on community college students for program improvement and evaluation. It includes case studies of states that have used data systematically and strategically to drive institutional change.

Using Longitudinal Data to Increase Community College Student Success: A Guide to Measuring Milestone and Momentum Point Attainment.
D. Timothy Leinbach and Davis Jenkins. Community College Research Center, Teacher's College, Columbia University (2008).

This guide informs states how to use data on community college students to identify critical educational outcomes and patterns of progress and achievement.

A Short Guide to “Tipping Point” Analyses of Community College Student Labor Market Outcomes.
Davis Jenkins. Community College Research Center, Teacher's College, Columbia University (2008).

This guide describes how states can use data on community college students to conduct “tipping point” analyses of labor market outcomes. It specifies the data elements needed to complete a study and potential uses of the research.

Power Tools: Designing State Community College Data and Performance Measurement Systems to Increase Success.
Susan Goldberger. Jobs for the Future (2007).

Prepared for the Achieving the Dream national initiative, this report identifies essential features of a system to measure the performance of state community colleges.  It also describes the essential features of state data systems to support performance measurement.

State Data Systems and Privacy Concerns.
Jack Mills. Jobs for the Future (2005).

This report, also prepared for the Achieving the Dream national initiative, describes how states have successfully used student record data for evaluation and program improvement within the limits of federal privacy laws, particularly the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  Included are the experiences of Florida, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

Following the Mobile Student: Can We Develop the Capacity for a Comprehensive Database to Assess Student Progression? 
Peter T. Ewell, Paula R. Schild, and Karen Paulson. National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (2003).

This report looks at dozens of state student databases to test the feasibility of linking them to create a more comprehensive network for tracking student progress.  It features a survey of database managers on methods and frequency of data collection, types of data collected, and methods of managing, reporting and sharing that data.

State Policy Examples

Florida was one of the first states to track students into the labor market. The Florida Department of Education has the capacity to determine whether former students enrolled in public schools, colleges and workforce programs found jobs or pursued further education and training.

The Illinois Community College Board analyzed in 2008 a variety of education transitions for its students, including those enrolled in adult education and developmental or remedial education.

Indiana’s Chamber of Commerce, together with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), compiled a multi-agency report in 2008 on the performance of adult education and workforce skills providers, with comparisons to other states and detailed county maps.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce also worked with NCHEMS on a policy audit of state workforce policies with recommendations for change, released in January 2009.

The Student Achievement Initiative is a statewide initiative within WA’s community and technical college system to develop an incentive system that rewards colleges for improving student achievement. Colleges are measured on improving basic skills, earning the first 15 and 30 college credits, completing college level math, and completing certificates, degrees, and apprenticeship training. The initiative is unusual for the emphasis it places on helping students reach early milestones in college, called “Momentum Points,” that the state’s analysis of its own administrative data showed helped predict whether students would ultimately complete a credential.

The Washington State Board of Community and Technical College System used longitudinal data to determine the “tipping point” at which students began to experience a substantial earnings payoff from college, and to determine how many basic skills students were reaching that tipping point. More information can be found on the Community College Research Center's web site.

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