State Postsecondary Data 101

Demand is high for detailed information on students’ progress and outcomes through their postsecondary education. Many factors contribute to this increased desire for information, including a renewed emphasis on institutional accountability, interest in consumer information for prospective students and regular inquiries from policymakers to state coordinating and governing boards. State Postsecondary Unit Record Systems (PSURS) are the primary means for gathering student progress and outcomes metrics at a state level. PSURS generate critical information on key state-level initiatives to improve student success, such as performance funding, workforce outcomes, and improving remedial education.

PSURS have expanded amidst the increasing demand for this kind of information to include more data elements and link to other public databases to enable analysis of students across the educational pipeline and into the workforce. SHEEO has periodically administered a survey of PSURS since 2010. Over the last eight years, linkages have grown to the point that 29 states (see below) are able to connect unit records from K-12 and college and into the workforce. This allows researchers to report metrics relating to transitions along the educational pipeline. Examples of such reports include high school feedback to K-12 principals denoting the percentage of high school graduates who went on to earn a degree and wage outcome reports for postsecondary graduates by discipline.

However, despite this growth in metrics collection and linkages, barriers to effective use persist in many states and coverage of postsecondary institutions is often limited to public institutions. As of 2016, only eighteen states’ PSURS contained unit records from private, not-for-profit institutions, and only sevenstates indicated that their PSURS included records from public, private not-for-profit, and for-profit institutions. As more students “swirl” between institutions, reporting basic indicators of student outcomes can critically omit students who attend more than one institution. Additionally, agency capacity to analyze these data and dedicated funding streams to maintain these databases is often limited. Finally, legislation that forbids the linking of unit record data for research purposes has been proposed in several states and enacted (and later amended to allow linking) in one case.

SHEEO’s report, The State of State Postsecondary Data Systems: Strong Foundations 2016 contains the following recommendations for policymakers to improve the capacity and use of these data systems.

Tie the PSURS to Strategic Planning Efforts

When the strategic plan for a state contains specific metrics that track student progress and outcomes, it sets a primary deliverable for PSURS and increases the awareness of postsecondary students’ data. One particularly effective strategy to this end is to include the director for research and planning in senior leadership planning sessions and strategy sessions.

Address privacy concerns head on

Agencies should have a plan to protect personally identifiable information of all students in the PSURS and communicate this plan to relevant stakeholders. Because constituents and users of data are increasingly concerned about protecting student privacy and confidentiality, SHEEO has asked additional questions relating to privacy in its latest iteration of the Strong Foundations survey — the accompanying report will be released in July 2018.

Serve the needs of constituents

Each primary audience of PSURS data, including administrators, legislators, policymakers and students should be able to easily access and understand relevant metrics calculated by the PSURS. The best way to make sure that key decisions are made with a data-driven mindset is to deliver this information directly to its consumers.

An update to the Strong Foundations survey will be released in July of 2018. Be on the look out for additional examples of best practices, updated trend data on the capacities and uses of PSURS, and recommendations for improving PSURS and their uses.

State CEOs of Higher Education Need Support to Succeed

Imagine you’re being recruited for a new role. The job description says you’ll be expected to dramatically improve outcomes, find consensus in a hyper-partisan policy environment, and succeed even as critical funding is cut year after year. Do you take the job?

Given that daunting scenario, many of us would politely decline. But at a time when state policy success is increasingly linked to student success, economic growth and social prosperity, America desperately needs top talent leading state efforts to achieve postsecondary attainment and equity goals.

The chief executives of statewide governing, policy and coordinating boards of postsecondary education operate under myriad demands, strained budgets and high expectations. And they face significant challenges in achieving aggressive, yet necessary, attainment and equity goals. They’re resolved to succeed, but we must do more to arm them with the tools necessary to move our states forward.

That’s where we — the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) — come in. As the nation’s premiere organization for the top higher education leaders in each state, we are uniquely positioned to provide the advocacy, professional development and research support our members need to develop a state workforce that’s ready to meet the needs of the 21st century economy.

Increasing public skepticism of higher education — at a time when a high-quality credential or degree has never been more important — requires SHEEO to deepen its support for state higher education executive officers and their staffs as they navigate challenges and communicate the significant value of education beyond high school.

Recognizing this watershed moment in state higher education policy, we at SHEEO are taking a step back to assess how well our organization is delivering on our mission — a process informed by invaluable feedback from leaders across the nation — and recalibrate our strategic vision so that we can continue to deliver the highest value to our members. This effort has been made possible by the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through a capacity grant to SHEEO.

As we continue this listening and engagement effort, we are excited to roll out new SHEEO content on the Medium platform to help us better connect and communicate with members across the country. This new platform will be a hub for thought leadership, analysis, research and updates on the good work happening in states across the country.

Fittingly, the announcement of our new presence on this platform comes at the same time that we want to share a follow-up with our members on our annual Executive Committee meeting. It was wonderful to bring the Executive Committee together in Boulder for two days in early March to discuss the future direction for the association. Conversations centered on our Gates capacity grant and early findings gathered this year through agency site visits and survey results. These insights will influence the development of a new SHEEO strategic plan, which will be announced in late 2018.

The second day of meetings focused on association business including the charge, scope and deliverables for each SHEEO committee, budgetary items, and planning for the annual meeting in July. I know we all enjoyed the feedback and candid conversations we had during those two days together, and we will have lots to discuss during our July convening.

Please continue checking this page for additional insights and analysis regarding key issues in higher education. Our State of Higher Education Finance (SHEF) report will be coming out this spring, and we are already looking forward to engaging with all of you on those results, and how we can use this new information as a tool to continue our work together.