WICHE to Pilot Multistate Data Exchange
Boulder, Colorado — With education beyond high school increasingly important in the global economy, states are under growing pressure to ensure that their residents are well educated. Yet the propensity of Americans to cross state lines in pursuit of educational or employment opportunities means that states must take that mobility into account as they develop or refine public policies aimed at fulfilling their workforce demands. To help states build capacity and incorporate information from beyond their borders, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) has received a $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a three-year project to develop a pilot multistate longitudinal data exchange. Four states will be initially invited to participate: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Hawaii.
At a time when states are striving to make sure that every educational dollar they spend yields the greatest possible return on investment, the need for statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDSs)—which track individuals from early childhood education through K-12 and college, then into the workforce—is great. Interest at the national level is also keen, and the federal government has provided $400 million over the last several years in competitive grants to stimulate SLDS development. WICHE’s project anticipates the logical next step in the process.
While statewide data systems have strong potential to inform policy and practice, they fail to account for their citizens’ movement across state lines, especially to attend college or to work. A true “human capital development data system,” such as the one WICHE plans to build through this grant, will provide policy-relevant information for how states acquire human capital through importation, as well as through education, while providing insights into the characteristics of individuals who are the most and least mobile.
“This grant will help the four pilot states better understand how effectively the graduates of their high schools and colleges blend into the workforce, whether they do so in fields in which they are prepared and whether they work in their state or a neighboring one,” says WICHE President David Longanecker. “We hope that the model we develop with the pilot states can eventually be used across the country.”
The project will focus on four principal activities to create a workable, voluntary multistate data exchange: developing the necessary governance structures and processes to guide the project; creating the means for linking data across state lines while keeping personal data confidential, in compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA); developing the reporting tools and templates that will provide the most utility to the participating states; and disseminating information about the project, sharing best practices in creating multistate data exchanges nationwide. The WICHE initiative will build on work being undertaken by the State Higher Education Executive Officers and the Council of Chief State School Officers to develop common data standards to improve the utility of the longitudinal data systems.