Using Data To Get To and Through College: Part 3

Using Data To Get To and Through College: Part 3

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  • We know a college degree is a critical contributor to student success in the 21st century economy, and a true metric of that success is connecting graduates with meaningful employment. In our culminating discussion of a three-part series exploring using data to help get students to and through college,

    Third Way brought together leaders in the higher education and workforce communities to discuss innovative ways institutions and business leaders are using data to provide students with the skills they need to succeed in today’s economy. 

    This event featured a conversation with pioneering institutional leaders and employers exploring how data can be used to best connect graduates with workforce needs, including: Dr. Lenore Rodicio, Executive Vice President and Provost at Miami Dade College; Dr. Bryan Wilson, Director of the Workforce Data Quality Campaign, a project of National Skills Coalition; and Dr. Robert Sheets, Consultant, US Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Research Professor at George Washington University.

    Tamara Hiler, Senior Policy Advisor and Higher Education Campaign Manager at Third Way, kicked off the conversation by noting that receipt of a degree from an institution of higher education is not enough if that degree does nothing to provide students with the skills they need to find a meaningful job. Panelists agreed that part of the disconnect in the higher education to workforce pipeline exists because there is a lack of data about what labor market gaps exist and how to fix them.

    Dr. Wilson, representing the state view on the panel, added that sector partnerships are important for helping close skills gap that exists in today’s economy. “Institutions of higher education and the business community must work together for a sustainable future. Existing data available does not inform students about labor market outcomes of specific programs or institutions of higher education and improving data transparency would contribute to a reduction in the skills gap.” But even when workforce needs are identified, Dr. Rodicio pointed out that the time it takes for institutions to address those needs can be upwards of 3 to 4 years—often too late for the students they serve. 

    But panelists all agreed that policymakers have an important role to play in making higher education data useful for families and for higher education continuous improvement. Dr. Rodicio chimed in that, “We have too many disparate data systems in higher education that don’t answer the questions we need,” and, “we have to rethink the way we measure outcomes.” The best way to do that, the panelists urged, would be to create a student unit record system that would allow us to accurately count the success of all students, including the growing share of part-time students on campuses today. Access to data & improved transparency is key for moving the needle forward for helping all student find meaningful employment.

     Dr. Sheets, representing the employer aspect of the conversation, added that there can be an increase in the employer’s role in managing the talent pipeline based on lessons learned in chain management. For example a strategy would be for employers to organize themselves together to come up with a critical need they both share. The bottom line is, it is about improving the information employers are providing to their talent partners. Dr. Sheets says that information a talent partner needs is, “how many people do I need in these critical jobs and what are the hiring requirements for those jobs. It involves them [the employer] using data to actually understand where they are getting the best source of talent… and building partnerships based upon that data to talent sources.” Dr. Sheets also urged stakeholders to rethink new metrics, including using time to productivity rather than completion as a benchmark for measuring success.