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U Texas Earnings Outcomes Pilot with U.S. Census Proves Useful

population data

A pilot linking degrees with earnings that offered an alternative to get around a federal ban on student-level data collection has been deemed a step forward. The project, involving the University of Texas System and the U.S. Census Bureau, kicked off in 2017. The program was meant to provide a more accurate picture of degree attainment and how it affects labor market outcomes for UT graduates. While data related to graduates who remain in Texas was readily available to the system to calculate earnings outcomes, information about people who moved out of state was elusive.

The federal ban on the collection of data has ostensibly remained in place to maintain student data privacy; in reality, opponents have suggested, the ban has prevented families from getting a more accurate view of various education choices based purely on cost and potential earnings outcomes.

The statistics in the pilot focused on the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile of earnings at one, five and 10 years after graduation — expanding the university system's own "seekUT" program, which originally provided one-year and five-year outcomes based strictly on in-state data.

In a report recently published by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), UT's Stephanie Bond Huie, vice chancellor for institutional research and analysis, and David Troutman, associate vice chancellor in the same office, shared their "reflections" on the work. According to the authors, the report is intended to serve, at least in part, as a "technical roadmap" for other institutions that want to undertake a similar project in their own states.

As the project's researchers discovered, the majority of graduates from the state's academic institutions stayed in Texas. One year after graduation, six in 10 people were still in-state. Even so, 14 percent had moved out of state and the status of the remaining 26 percent was classified as unknown. Ten years after graduation, 54 percent of people were still in-state, 18 percent had moved out of state and 28 percent were unknown.

Guidance in the report included step-by-step coverage of how to build project buy-in and approval from leadership, set up the legal agreements and ensure the quality and security of data.

"The partnership between the UT System and the U.S. Census Bureau has demonstrated that is possible to protect student data and at the same time provide timely information to help students make informed decisions," said Bond Huie, in a statement. She added that the results from the partnership has "informed recent updates to the College Scorecard and, ideally, will continue to inspire leaders at the federal level to create a more comprehensive student-level data network."

However, the report concluded, a federal solution would still be better. Following a state-by-state approach "is unwieldy, inefficient and leaves students in non-participating states to make choices with limited information."

"The UT System and Census Bureau's partnership is a perfect example of how critical and urgent it is for states and institutions to have access to more complete data on student outcomes, especially employment outcomes," said IHEP Vice President of Policy Research Mamie Voight.

The report is openly available on the IHEP website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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