It is no secret that students desire proof that the power of a degree or certification is demonstrated by accessing a career pathway with solid wages. It is also no secret that employers want proof that the power of a higher education relationship is demonstrated by access to high-performing talent. Students invest in classwork and labs. Employers invest precious dollars in talent acquisition and retention. Investors and grant-making regimes continue to look to tracking employment outcomes to measure the impact of the dollars they dedicate to college programs. Ask any college team of staff and faculty dedicated driving talent and wages, and they will tell you they are doing the best they can, given their resources and limitations, to track students from coursework to job and wages. Ten Florida state colleges looked at barriers and opportunities in tracking of student employment and careers to understand and improve the evidentiary bases for program strategies. Engagement in a 3-year U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) grant included tracking and taking a close look at the broad assortment of tracking options available to colleges. Electing to understand the complications, the colleges engaged in an analysis of the data collection processes, and reached a bold consensus on the need for a single, statewide platform for success.
The ten state colleges formed the Florida Regional Consortium for Technology-Enabled Learning Solutions (FRC-TEC) in 2011. Their work was funded by a USDOL Grant (The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grants Program) and student access to and completion of two-year pathways to employment were the primary focus. As the Consortium Partners pointed resources to meaningful restructuring and innovation in health sciences and information technology, the colleges understood that their decisions on how to track students from programs into careers would be of special importance to students, employers, and college leaders in the future.
In June 2015, the Consortium advanced their report on tracking to the USDOL. The report raised the question: What happens when a geographically-diversified consortium of colleges stands back and considers over four years of best efforts to implement and use tracking methodologies? By “tracking”, the Partners mean “any identification, management, analysis, and adaptation of data sources to understand, promote, and improve student and employer outcomes.”
The results in the report may be a welcome reminder to leaders in higher education, policy makers, and champions of the “skills movement” that effective tracking resources are difficult to fund and sustain at the local and individual college levels. The consensus of the Partners on what a realistic, high-performing tracking system should really look like may motivate discussion and action on building shared platform to draw on outcomes for both the student and employer customers.
In brief, the Partners took ten key steps. They:
- Crafted a consensus ideal for what a tracking program should do. The statement was not purely aspirational. They designed the statement to be bold but “do-able”, with worthy and powerful outcomes for students, employers, and colleges. The ideal includes building student and employer confidence in talent and each college’s ability to deliver over time.
- Inventoried the various and inconsistent resources currently utilized to track students into employment and advancement. They made it clear that continued customization and case-by-case use of the inventory would never get to the ideal.
- Considered the ideal in light of campus resources, from legal affairs to knowledge transfer systems. They reported that necessary tracking resources are dependent on and limited by the size, scale, and budget of the Partner college.
- Articulated the critical qualities of a tracking system (timeliness; usefulness to employers, college, and students; and credibility).
- Spelled out an environment where program owners, including faculty and key staff, demonstrate passion, pride, and dedication to student success. However, access to knowledge transfer systems, and performance and customer satisfaction data from employer sectors is limited.
- Confronted the “downside” of recurring customization. Even in the case of unique employer partnerships or grant programs, there is the need for universal policy management.
- Confronted the “spikey”, short term and difficult to budget, nature of programs which drive outcome tracking.
- Emphasized their commitments to student privacy and workplace confidentiality. They want to use communications, waivers, and key forms with confidence and “legal precision”; and boldly stated that “no college should develop policies on privacy and confidentiality in isolation.”
- Called for the development of a state-level platform to ensure the ideal for tracking is reached and sustained; and made a corresponding call for a platform of legal and regulatory expertise to ensure confidence in and standardization of critical tools like student waivers.
- Called for a credible set of state-level resources to deal with collecting and assessing demand-side (employer) satisfaction with the talent delivery system. Even if much of this assessment is at the local or college level, Partners are keenly aware that there are common traits, codes, and practices across sectors.
Does the report serve as a restatement of concerns that have been the subject of discussion across U.S. college campuses for many years? Perhaps. But it also adds real scale, currency, and clarity to the concerns.
Ten colleges agree that the ideal for tracking has a common, not a custom, foundation. They agree that the basic resources and expertise required to build sustainable, credible, high-confidence tracking are generally the same, expensive and “spikey” at the local level and, potentially, hyper-efficient and productive on a state platform. All the Partners want to be a part of measuring and proving efficiencies on a state-level over time as they move forward to refine their service to students and employers in their regions.
Florida has been considered a center of higher education innovation for decades. Consistent with this legacy, these colleges are not calling for a hand-off or a hand-out but seeking a way to participate and a new level of break-through solutions.
Fairfield Index, Inc. was the Project/Research Consultant for the Consortium concerning due diligence on tracking practices, access to tracking resources, and overall results.
Chipola College, Daytona State College, Florida Gateway College, Florida Southwestern State College, Florida State College Jacksonville, Lake-Sumter State College, Palm Beach State College, Pensacola State College, St. Johns River State College, and Tallahassee Community College
- Florida Regional Consortium for Technology Enabled Learning Solutions. Methods and Practices of Collecting Employment Data in Florida’s FRC-TEC Consortium: Overcoming Barriers to Achieving Consistent, High-confidence Outcome Data. Rep. FRC-TEC, 2015. Print. p.3