WDQC Speaks to State Legislators

By Rachel Zinn
September 24, 2014

Lawmakers from more than two dozen states discussed the importance of workforce data in aligning education and training with employer needs at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Jobs Summit last week.

As part of the summit in San Jose, California, I presented a workshop on WDQC’s blueprint for strong state data systems. The legislators and state staff members in attendance were knowledgeable about their state data, and some praised longitudinal data systems as a critical tool for informing policy.

Participants were particularly interested in using data systems to understand whether students and workers are being prepared for the labor market. We talked about supply and demand reports that compare data on credential attainment in certain programs of study with occupational projections to identify skill gaps.

Several attendees noted that their states are trying to figure out better ways to measure credentials, which is an element of the WDQC blueprint. A representative from North Carolina described collaboration between his state’s departments of commerce and education to define certifications that are important to help individuals get jobs.

A common concern was whether data on post-graduation earnings could be shared more effectively to prevent students from taking on excessive debt to earn credentials that would not lead to decent salaries. A senator from Utah said that his state calculates earnings for college graduates, but does not publicize the data well enough. I gave examples of states that are creating scorecards for students, and even developing tools for high school students to teach them about education and career options.

The presentation included an explanation of ways that state data systems protect privacy and confidentiality. The audience acknowledged that there are significant privacy concerns from some state leaders, but they didn’t have many questions on this topic.

Through our conversations it became clear that state longitudinal data systems have their limits. They don’t capture information on individuals’ “soft skills” or the non-monetary enrichment that can come with a college education.

However, the data in state systems is recognized as providing real benefits for legislators, students and workers trying to make smart decisions.