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Wage data to empower data-driven decision making

Wage data to empower data-driven decision making

The Workforce Data Quality Campaign’s new brief, Making Wage Data Work: Creating a Federal Resource for Evidence and Transparency, reviews options to establish a secure resource of employment and earnings data. This resource could be used to produce better information on the labor market outcomes of education and workforce programs. The paper explores scenarios that could build upon the work already being done at the Census Bureau, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Labor.

Although there are various sources of employment and earnings data within federal and state agencies, none are both comprehensive and widely accessible. A single federal resource of wage data could be used to produce a nationwide data tool that could, for example, help prospective students, policymakers, employers, and educational institutions compare the earnings outcomes of different majors, nationwide. 

The issue is on the radar of policymakers. Last fall, the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking called for the creation of a single federal source of wage data for statistical purposes and evaluation. Legislation to start implementing the Commission’s vision passed the House of Representatives, but has not yet passed the Senate. Within their own budget proposals, the Obama and Trump administrations have called for expanding access to the National Directory of New Hires database to better facilitate evaluation and performance reporting, including on workforce training programs, but Congress has yet to authorize such a proposal. The Census Bureau and the University of Texas System have piloted a potential source of wage data. The Department of Labor and the states are negotiating a new wage record interchange agreement.

Congress and the President, along with relevant federal and state agencies, should work together to develop one or more of the following options to improve wage information for multiple purposes:

  • The Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics program at the U.S. Census Bureau
  • The National Directory of New Hires under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • A new comprehensive database or expansion of the wage record interchange systems under the U.S. Department of Labor


The new WDQC brief examines current coverage and allowable uses of those existing sources of wage data. The paper also reviews federal and state actions required to make each source more comprehensive and viable as a single resource for federal and state agencies and authorized researchers. With that resource, agencies that already have expertise could then securely and more efficiently match employment and earnings data to other program data.

Policymakers, workers, jobseekers, students, and businesses should be able to take into account more comprehensive, comparable trends on employment and wages to help them make better decisions about their own investments and improve their chances of economic success. A single federal source on wage data would be a significant step toward realizing that goal.

Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign, Employment & Wage Data

States need not be deterred by costs of SLDS

  ·   By Jenna Leventoff,
States need not be deterred by costs of SLDS

States need not be deterred from building a state longitudinal data system (SLDS). According to a new paper, "Costs of State Longitudinal Data Systems", by the Workforce Data Quality Campaign, the costs of building and maintaining SLDS can vary dramatically and can be adjusted to fit a state’s needs.

SLDS are used to match data about individuals from different sources over time. They are an important resource for state policymakers, researchers, and the public. These systems can be used to provide information about how a state’s education and workforce system is preforming, or to help students select the best program for them.

Although most states now have an SLDS, a few remaining states may be dissuaded from building an SLDS because of implementation and maintenance costs. However, according to the paper, these costs can vary based upon a number of factors and need not be excessive. Some states have built new SLDS for as little as $2.5 million dollars. Factors influencing costs can include the capabilities of the system, the number of state agencies contributing data to the system, who builds the system, and when the system was built (many technology costs decrease over time). Factors that can influence maintenance costs include the amount and quality of data analysis conducted, the number of data requests received and filled, and the level of technological sophistication.

This paper provides case studies of five states. Each case study details that state’s SLDS implementation and maintenance costs and what factors influenced that cost.

Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign, State Longitudinal Data Systems
Modernizing postsecondary data for 21st century students

Students, policymakers, institutions and others should have access to clear information on postsecondary education programs including their employment and wage outcomes. The Workforce Data Quality Campaign’s latest paper, Workforce success relies on transparent postsecondary data, reviews why existing data systems cannot provide key information on postsecondary programs and explains the changes needed to provide students and others with the information they need.  

When making decisions about which programs to invest in, students and policymakers should have information on program costs, completion rates, and employment and wage outcomes. The information should be comparable for programs across the nation and provided over a public, online dashboard that also displays other outcome information such as student retention, loan repayment, default rates, and rates of further education. The website should also include and be searchable by important student characteristics including student demographics and financial aid. The information should be based on student-level data but aggregated at the program level in ways that ensure the security and privacy of personally identifiable information.

Federal policies have stopped short, and even prevented, the provision of this important information. Congress has banned the creation of a data system based on postsecondary student-level data. The Department of Education provides the College Scorecard, but data for the Scorecard are limited to federally aided students. Also, the Scorecard does not show results for individual programs of study, only for institutions as a whole, even though evidence shows labor market outcomes for students vary more by program of study than by institution.

One recent proposal for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, the “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform” (PROSPER) Act, would authorize a dashboard with information on individual programs of study, but would still draw data only from federally-aided students, missing thirty percent of student data. The bipartisan College Transparency Act, on the other hand, would overturn the ban on student level data, and direct the Department of Education to create a student-level data network and post better information online about programs across the country.

This paper goes into greater depth explaining these issues -- how current policies fall short and the need for a federal student level data network with a public-facing website, a website that would provide students, education leaders, and policymakers with the information needed to make more informed decisions about postsecondary education.

Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign, Data Sharing, State Longitudinal Data Systems, Employment & Wage Data

Montana sets example for other states by using data to drive policy

  ·   By Jenna Leventoff,
Montana sets example for other states by using data to drive policy

A new case study, How Montana is using data to drive policy change, written in collaboration between the Montana Department of Labor and Industry and the Workforce Data Quality Campaign shows how data-driven decision making can help states create education and workforce policies that can help them compete in a 21st century economy. The paper outlines how Montana educational institutions, employers, and policymakers have used data to not just understand the effectiveness of their state’s education and workforce policies, but to make decisions that will help the state meet labor market demand.

Although middle-skill jobs account for 52 percent of the Montana’s labor market, only 47 percent of the state’s workers are trained to the middle-skill level. In order to better understand that skills gap, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry and the Office of the Commissioner on Higher Education published a report that seeks to determine if Montana has enough students graduating in the right fields to meet the state’s current and future workforce needs.

“Too many decisions regarding the relationship between workforce needs and higher education are made based on biases and assumptions that are not supported by or tied to any solid research or analysis. The statewide college report provides us with sorely needed information to help us make data driven decisions,” said Bill Johnstone, a Regent on the Montana Board of Regents.

Since the release of the statewide college report, numerous stakeholders, such as educational institutions, employers, career counselors, and policymakers have utilized the information in it to make policy changes aimed at ensuring there are enough students graduating in the right fields to meet Montana’s current and future workforce needs. For example:

  • Missoula College is considering developing new programs to train EMTs, paramedics, dental assistants, and preschool teachers because the report suggests these programs are undersupplied in the region.
  • Career counselors have changed their career guidance strategy. Instead of funneling students towards general studies, which had below average workforce outcomes, counselors are now helping students to identify careers with better employment outcomes.
  • Great Falls College has engaged in discussions with one of the state’s largest construction firms to create customized trainings in occupations that the report suggested for expansion.
  • The Governor is using the report to support his focus on expanding work-based learning to improve student outcomes and help address the state’s worker shortage.


According to WDQC’s 2016 Mastering the Blueprint survey, most other states have the capacity to conduct supply and demand analysis or to know if graduates get jobs, thus enabling them to make data-driven decisions about their education and workforce programs. WDQC hopes that other states will be inspired by Montana to leverage the data linkage they are already conducting to help stakeholders make well informed decisions. These decisions will ultimately help ensure that the state can narrow its skills gap and ensure that all workers can find good jobs.

Posted In: Montana, Workforce Data Quality Campaign, State Longitudinal Data Systems, Data Sharing

BLS Survey on Contingent Workforce Reveals more Continuity than Change

  ·   By Christina Pena,
BLS Survey on Contingent Workforce Reveals more Continuity than Change

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released new contingent and alternative worker survey data on June 7, 2018. The BLS conducted the survey in May 2017 as a supplement to the Current Population Survey. Surprisingly, rates for this type of work have slightly decreased since the last survey in 2005.

BLS defines “contingent workers” as “people who do not expect their jobs to last or who reported that their jobs are temporary. They do not have an implicit or explicit contract for continuing employment.” People working under “alternative employment arrangements,” include “independent contractors, on-call workers, temporary help agency workers, and workers provided by contract firms.”

Workforce observers were anticipating larger leaps in the percentage of people participating in the contingent and alternative workforce. The percentage of those workers as part of the overall workforce has slightly declined (although the actual number of people in those jobs has increased as the U.S. population has grown overall). Here are a few statistics from the BLS release:

  • In May 2017, 3.8 percent of all workers held contingent jobs, compared with 4.1 percent in February 2005.
  • Independent contractors (including independent consultants and freelance workers in the “alternative” work category) represented 6.9 percent of total employment, down from 7.4 percent in February 2005.
  • Contingent, full-time workers earned 23 percent less ($685) in median weekly earnings compared to their non-contingent (“traditional worker”) counterparts ($886), according to the May 2017 survey.
  • Contract company workers earned a median weekly wage of $1,077, the highest amongst alternative workers. Earnings for independent contractors ($851) were comparable to those of traditional workers ($884). On-call ($797) and temporary help agency workers ($521) earned less than other alternative workers.


Several reasons may have contributed to the relative continuity in workforce rates between the 2005 and 2017 surveys:

  • These latest figures did not include results from four new BLS questions covering job solicitation and payment through websites and mobile apps (electronically-mediated employment). BLS continues to analyze those data and expects to release those figures by the end of September 2018. With the increasing use of services such as Uber and Lyft, and online job platforms such as “Task Rabbit,” the results should interest those following debates about the “future of work.”
  • BLS conducted its 2005 contingent worker survey in the month of February. Because BLS conducted this latest survey in May, the demand for seasonal work may have affected the results, although the significance of this impact is uncertain.
  • The survey asked respondents to address the jobs for which they worked the most hours. Therefore, contingent and alternative work would have missed the cut in instances where workers spent most of their hours in traditional employment, but still held an alternative or contingent job “on the side” – as a way to make some extra money to supplement their main employment income.


Given current funding, BLS has no definite plans to conduct a similar survey in the future. This is one of the reasons WDQC has often joined other organizations in calling for BLS’s funding to at least keep pace with inflation.

For more information about the different categories of contingent and alternative workers, and more detailed data broken down by key demographic groups, visit the BLS’s Economic News Release webpage on Contingent and Alternative Employment Arrangements.

Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign, Labor Market Information

WDQC applauds new MD law to measure non-degree credential attainment

  ·   By Jenna Leventoff,
WDQC applauds new MD law to measure non-degree credential attainment

On May 15, 2018, Maryland’s governor Larry Hogan signed the Career Preparation Expansion Act, which will help Maryland measure non-degree credential attainment and narrow the middle-skills gap by requiring certain entities to provide the state with data about licenses, industry certifications, and certificates. WDQC advocates for states to count non-degree credentials and provided assistance on the legislation.

The Career Preparation Expansion Act requires the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) to collect (1) licensing data from the Department of Health and Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation; (2) certificate data from postsecondary institutions; and (3) certification data from any industry certifier that receives state funding. It also requires MHEC to share this data with the Maryland Longitudinal Data System (MLDS) so that MLDS may link that information with workforce data in order to determine outcomes, such as the rate of employment.

As outlined in WDQC’s recent 50-state scan “Measuring Non-Degree Credential Attainment,” many states are still working towards collecting data on certificates from non-credit programs, licenses, and industry certifications. This data is essential for helping the state understand how many of its residents are obtaining a postsecondary credential and how to narrow the state’s middle skills gap. The National Skills Coalition estimates that between 2014-2024 forty-two percent of jobs in Maryland will be middle skill jobs, which require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree. This information, particularly once matched with employment information, can help the state formulate better policy that can narrow the skills gap and create a thriving economy.

To our knowledge, the Career Preparation Expansion Act is one of the first bills in the country to require data collection from industry certifiers and may provide an example of how other states can begin to collect more information about industry certifiers.

WDQC worked with Maryland legislators to develop this bill, and Senior Policy Analyst Jenna Leventoff provided written testimony in support.  National Skills Coalition member, Jobs Opportunity Task Force, supported the bill as well. If you are interested in collecting better data about non-degree credentials in your state, we encourage you to contact WDQC

Posted In: Maryland, Workforce Data Quality Campaign, Capture diverse credentials, Industry validation, Skills gap, Count more students
WDQC scan reveals that states are making progress in measuring non-degree credential attainment

A new 50-state scan from WDQC, “Measuring Non-Degree Credential Attainment", shows that states are making progress collecting data about non-degree credential attainment, including certificates, industry certifications, and licenses. Realizing that non-degree credentials can lead to strong employment outcomes, many states now have education attainment goals that include non-degree credentials of value. The case studies in this scan can help states measure progress toward these goals.  

In order to measure progress on educational attainment, states need data about non-degree credential attainment. Although states may have data about credential attainment from national surveys, WDQC’s scan asked states if they had data from administrative records, which result from the administration of a program and are more accurate than surveys. Administrative data can enable states to know which groups of people are attaining each type of credential, and where progress is needed. 

Overall, states are the most likely to have data about certificates from public for-credit programs, registered apprenticeship certificates, and licenses. States are the least likely to collect data on non-registered apprenticeship certificates and industry certifications.

States also reported which non-degree credentials data they incorporate into their longitudinal data systems. Longitudinal data systems match information from different programs and agencies across time, which can enable states to understand the education and employment outcomes of these credentials. States are the most likely to incorporate data about for-credit certificates into their longitudinal data systems, and the least likely to incorporate data about non-credit certificates into their longitudinal data systems.

The majority of states are able to break down data about non-degree credential attainment by certain key demographics. This can help states better understand the attainment rates of these groups. States are the most likely to disaggregate attainment results by gender, a student’s highest level of educational attainment, and veteran status. 

Finally, the scan shows that states are considering the quality of credentials. Thirty states are developing a list of “credentials of value.” These lists can help states identify quality credentials in order to administer financial aid, workforce development, or other programs.

In addition to work already being done, states can take steps to collect better administrative data about non-degree credentials. The scan contains examples of states that are already collecting certain types of non-degree credentials data. For example, Missouri has created a process to gather data about certificates awarded after the completion of a non-credit program, Tennessee has gathered data about students who take industry certification exams, and Washington state has a law which requires for-profit institutions to submit data to the state.

WDQC encourages state officials to use this scan to gauge their state’s progress in collecting data on non-degree credentials and to learn how to collect this data from other states who have done so successfully. State staff interested in collecting more data about non-degree credentials in their states should also reach out to WDQC, as we may be able to provide technical assistance.

 

Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign, Capture diverse credentials, Industry validation, Count more students

Workforce Data Quality Campaign invited to OECD in Paris

  ·   By Bryan Wilson,
Workforce Data Quality Campaign invited to OECD in Paris

On April 5 and 6 in Paris, France, WDQC Director Bryan Wilson participated in an “Expert Workshop on Strengthening the Governance of Skills Systems,” held by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  OECD is an international organization consisting of 35-member countries.  OECD asked Bryan to speak on “integrated information systems for skills,” and fully supported his participation.

OECD’s mission is, “to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.” OECD conducts research, develops policy recommendations, and sometimes facilitates agreements between governments. One of OECD’s four areas of focus is skills, ensuring that, “people of all ages can develop the skills to work productively and satisfyingly in the jobs of tomorrow.”

The OECD Center for Skills has worked recently to advance skill strategies in more than ten countries. Through this experience, the Center has learned how nations struggle to develop a systemic approach to skill policies. Four main challenges are: poor coordination among government agencies and levels of government, lack of collaboration with stakeholders, inefficient financing mechanisms, and lack of effective data and information systems. OECD is now proceeding to identify good policy practices to address these four challenges.

The purpose of the Expert Workshop was to provide feedback to OECD regarding their draft document outlining good policy practices in these four “dimensions”.  Being aware of WDQC’s work, they invited Bryan to speak as one of two external experts on good practices around workforce data and information systems. In all, the meeting was attended by 10 external experts, 22 OECD staff, and a representative of the European Commission. 

Many of the draft document’s points about workforce data and information systems would be familiar to an American audience: the need for accessible data for decision-making, the usefulness of longitudinal information systems, the need for cross-program data and data that crosses levels of government, and information on skill supply and demand.  The document suggested that mechanisms to support information systems include: bodies for coordinating workforce information across agencies, results-based management and accountability, and regular evaluations and transparent reporting of results.

In his comments at the Workshop, Bryan appreciated that OECD included integrated workforce data and information systems as one of four “dimensions” to systemic skills policies. He offered some suggestions for additions to the draft document.

Information systems should enable better decision-making among three primary sets of actors: policymakers, institutions or providers, and consumers.  As briefly mentioned in the document, to create integrated information systems, governments should establish longitudinal data systems that collect administrative records on program participants, administrative records on employment and earnings, link the records together, and are capable of aggregating information on individuals over time. A robust system must be based on individual unit data.

Governments should establish data tools that take data from longitudinal information systems and present the information in ways that are actionable by policymakers, institutions, and consumers. There should be dashboards designed for policymakers that show the key characteristics (such as costs and participant demographics) and educational and labor market outcomes of programs, using consistent methods and metrics to make the results easier to understand and to facilitate coordination across programs.

There should be transparent reports for consumers that show key characteristics and outcomes of programs of study at local institutions or providers, again, using consistent methods and metrics so that information is comparable, and consumers can make more informed decisions. There should be institutional feedback reports that similarly provide information on characteristics and outcomes of institutions and their programs of study, so that they may make more informed decisions about program improvement. Finally, there should be supply and demand reports that compare the number of newly trained workers per year to the number of job openings per year by field of study and level of education or training.

To implement these things require addressing certain challenges (a somewhat different list than in the draft document):

  • Creating administrative record-based information systems that are inclusive of all types of providers of skills training and the different types of credentials they produce, and comprehensive records of employment and earnings;  
  • The use of consistent metrics, horizontally and vertically across programs;
  • Getting policy-makers to use the information to inform their investments in skills training and other decisions; and
  • Wide and effective dissemination of consumer information.

As OECD’s project continues, Bryan offered to connect OECD staff to examples of good practices from American states.

Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign, Labor Market Information, Dashboard, Capture diverse credentials, Skills gap, Count more students, Graduate employment outcomes, Dashboards for policymakers

New MI Law Allows Community Colleges to Receive UI Data

  ·   By Jenna Leventoff,
New MI Law Allows Community Colleges to Receive UI Data

In March 2018, Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder signed MI HB 4545. This bi-partisan bill enables Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) to make unemployment insurance information available to community colleges and Michigan Works! Agencies.

Under previous Michigan law, only four-year colleges and universities could receive data from UIA, and they could only use that data for public-service research projects. MI HB 4545 expands the entities who are eligible to receive unemployment insurance information to include Michigan Works! Agencies and community colleges. The bill also expands the ways these entities can use the data. Now, eligible entities may receive and use data for program planning and evaluation, grant application or evaluation, accreditation, economic or workforce research, award eligibility, or state or federal mandated reporting. The bill also requires UIA to make information about what types of data it can share available online, and to help eligible institutions apply to receive data.

A companion bill, HB 4546, holds anyone involved with an eligible entity liable for misusing unemployment insurance information. Offenders would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

“This bill will simplify the process for community colleges and Michigan Works! vocational programs. These bills are an opportunity for us to make Michigan stronger and make better employment opportunities available to our residents,” said Michigan state representative Gary Howell.

According to stakeholders, both bills were introduced and passed in large part because of advocacy from the state’s community colleges. Michigan’s community colleges have long advocated for better access to unemployment insurance wage records in order to improve programs and better meet employer demand. In 2016, the community colleges helped develop HB 5763, which would have provided community colleges and Michigan Works! Agencies with access to unemployment insurance information. WDQC submitted written testimony in support of that effort. HB 4545 is substantially similar to HB 5763, representing a victory for the community college and workforce systems after years of hard work.

HB 4545 will take effect on July 1, 2018.

Posted In: Michigan, Workforce Data Quality Campaign, Industry validation, Capture diverse credentials, Skills gap, Count more students

Groundbreaking Project Releases Nationwide Earnings of UT System Graduates

  ·   By Christina Pena,
Groundbreaking Project Releases Nationwide Earnings of UT System Graduates

The University of Texas (UT) System recently published aggregated data on the earnings of its graduates who move out of state. Enabled by a unique partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program, the project shows great promise for better information on the workforce outcomes of postsecondary programs and institutions nationwide. 

The UT System makes this information available to the public via its online tool, seekUT, which includes program level information by institutions within the UT System. The seekUT online tool now includes out-of-state as well as in-state data on graduates, showing their median earnings by program-level at one, five, and ten years after graduation, as well as their debt-to-income ratios. The tool also provides the percentage of students who pursue education beyond the baccalaureate level, and covers undergraduate, graduate, medical, and dental programs. Eventually, the project will release information disaggregated by U.S. region.

The addition of nationwide earnings data is important because graduates who move out of state for work tend to have higher earnings than those who remain in the same state where they earned their credentials. Moreover, graduate degree recipients tend to move out of state more than those who receive baccalaureate degrees. 

In order to produce the nationwide earnings information, researchers matched UT System student data with the LEHD's earnings data from states' unemployment insurance wage records and earnings data from the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management, with some exclusions. The project shows the ability of agencies to maintain stringent safeguards that protect privacy and maintain security around systems that match student data with information from other administrative records. This process could help to inform the creation of a national student-level data system.

Project leaders said this is the first time a postsecondary institution has collaborated with a federal agency to measure earnings outcomes that are more complete than what is currently available through the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. Unlike the Scorecard, UT System data includes non-federally aided students and shows the earnings of completers by program of study, rather than lumping together the earnings of completers and non-completers at the institutional level.

LEHD has been working with the Colorado Department of Higher Education and has been in discussion with other states to explore similar projects. The lessons learned from the UT System project will also inform the Census Bureau’s efforts to scale up other education research projects in the future.

LEHD is open to forming new partnerships with other institutions so they too can discover how their graduates fare in the workforce nationwide. LEHD provides more information about its methodology and data files, as well as contact information, on its Postsecondary Employment Outcomes project page.

Posted In: Texas, Workforce Data Quality Campaign, Wage records, Scorecards for students, Cross-state sharing, Graduate employment outcomes
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