Reliable data use is key to improving student outcomes, and a new framework from the Institute for Higher Education Policy highlights some of the barriers states face as they attempt to use data effectively.
Accurately evaluating what works–and what doesn’t–to improve student progression through higher education requires the robust use of reliable data.
States play a pivotal role in compiling and using data to empower student choice, spur continuous institutional and system improvement, and develop evidence-based solutions that promote college access and success for all students in their state. However, certain challenges have prevented states from fully leveraging education and workforce data.
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IHEP’s framework identifies approaches to eliminating those barriers to data use, with solutions at the federal, state, and regional levels.
Written by Karen Bussey, Kim Dancy, and Mamie Voight, Better Data, Better Outcomes: Promoting Evidence, Equity, and Student Success through the Framework for State Postsecondary Data Solutions identifies opportunities to build innovative partnerships and develop messaging and advocacy strategies to champion a culture of data use.
The framework comes at an opportune time–tuition and student debt are climbing, and many public institutions find themselves scrambling for funding. At the same time, student demographics are changing. The right data can help state leaders understand which programs and institutions are delivering effective results for students.
“In our postsecondary system, every entity–institutions, states, and the federal government–has a role to play in using data well and advancing a culture of data use to promote the strongest possible outcomes for all students, especially low-income students and students of color,” says Voight, IHEP vice president of policy research.
“Challenges to effective data use at the state level cannot always be solved by states alone–they often require state, regional, and federal solutions. This framework identifies critical challenges facing states and provides guidance informed by their peers to overcome these obstacles. We hope the framework enables and empowers states to become stronger data champions in ways that promote greater, more equitable levels of student success,” Voight adds.
Together, approaches outlined in the framework help states advocate for resources and promote change.
To develop the framework, IHEP convened the Postsecondary Data Collaborative’s State Working Group. These state data policy experts discussed current barriers that limit their use of data to promote strong student outcomes and identified potential solutions.
While the states varied in their approach to data systems, overarching challenges emerged:
Resource allocation: Limits in resources, including financial support, the numbers and technical skills of agency staff, technological capacity, and other resources all create key barriers to effective state data use.
Cross-agency and cross-state data-sharing and matching: State agencies get a fragmented picture of how students fare as they progress through their education and into the workforce both because of technical issues related to data-sharing and matching processes, such as incompatible data identifiers that inhibit combining data, and because of organizational cultures that do not prioritize the integration of information across agencies or across state lines.
Legal and regulatory compliance: Laws and regulations primarily intended to promote the all-important need for student data privacy and security can often severely limit data use. In some cases, state laws were so restrictive that they entirely prevented states from using their data, while in others a lack of clear guidance about permissible uses of data under federal laws left some state agency staff reluctant to use certain types of data to inform policy or to communicate with students.