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State Data Systems and Community Colleges

A new policy brief from The Working Poor Families Project (WPFP), "Building and Strengthening State Data Systems to Measure Community College and Workforce Outcomes," shows the benefits and challenges to creating a state data system that follows students through their K-12 education into post-secondary degrees, certificates, other adult education, and into the work world. Using this data, states can determine the programs that best meet the needs of both employers and potential employees. Yet, as the report shows, many states have not incorporated data systems into their educational programs.

The report cites four common reasons for the lack of state data systems:
  • Leadership and management: Creating a strong system requires leadership and commitment from throughout agencies and educational institutions
  • Privacy laws and data-sharing agreements: Institutions must clearly show that their work will "improve instruction" in order to fit under federal law regarding student privacy. Data must be also trackable across agencies, which can result in a "tedious legal process."
  • Missing data and links to wage records: Many states have missing or incomplete data on nontraditional community college students as well as those that participate in other skills development systems. Even when data is available, it does not always link to wage and other achievement-related information.
  • Creating a culture of using data for continuous improvement: Finally, the report notes that for data systems to function well, they should provide information that can "inform and empower" educators as well as advocates and policy makers.
Strong data systems in several states are noted in the report, as well as recommendations and policy action steps for states.

How does Pennsylvania fare when looking at these recommendations? Pennsylvania has developed a student identification system and will begin calculating graduation results starting with the high school class of 2010. In 2008, the Commonwealth won the 2008 Leadership Award from the Data Quality Campaign for implementation of the statewide Pennsylvania Information Management System, which assigned unique identification numbers to students. Pennsylvania is currently applying for a federal grant to help make the connection between wage data and its existing system.

Interested in learning more about Pennsylvania and community colleges? Take a look at our reports in the sidebar, and watch for a new report coming early next year!


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