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Improving Data Access Must Be at the Top of Every State’s To-Do List

Improving Data Access Must Be at the Top of Every State’s To-Do List

New Data Quality Campaign vision for data access details how states must change their data systems to provide access for individuals, the public, and policymakers

WASHINGTON (May 3, 2023) – Every state, city, county, workforce board, postsecondary institution, and school district is struggling to solve complex and intertwined problems made all the more visible and urgent by the pandemic. Individuals and the people and agencies who support them are struggling to find information that helps them navigate the web of options after high school and through their careers. Without data, individuals, the public, and policymakers alike are left to make their best guess about things like where to allocate resources, how to support students, which programs of study meet their career goals, and what training they need to pursue a high-quality career. 

For decades, states have been investing in statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDSs) that connect individual-level data from early childhood, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce. Because of these investments, most states have a powerful tool that could provide people with the information they need to make decisions at key transition points along their journey through education and into the workforce. But state data systems are not meeting current data access needs—and the Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) new vision aims to change that. 

“Everyone has important decisions to make: which career path to pursue, how to support students, how much debt to take on, where to focus time and attention. In all of DQC’s focus groups, polling, and conversations across the country, I haven’t heard anyone say they have access to data in ways that help them navigate options and make smarter decisions,” said DQC President and CEO Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger. “Our big bet is that it’s far past time to support states to provide individuals, the public, and policymakers with the kind of data access they need to navigate pathways from education into the workforce.” 

DQC’s latest resource, What Now? A Vision to Transform State Data Systems to Inform People’s Pathways through Education and the Workforce, envisions a world where people have tailored access to the information they need to drive student success, economic mobility, and systemic change. This resource:

  • Lays out the types of data access that individuals, the public, and policymakers need to successfully navigate through education into high-quality careers.
  • Details four use cases in which SLDSs with data from education through workforce are necessary to support decisionmaking at key transition points.
  • Describes clear ways that state and federal leaders can take action. 

“Data only matters when people have access to information that enables them to make decisions,” said Bell-Ellwanger. “But current state data systems are not enough. Publicly oriented dashboards are almost nonexistent—but if done well and paired with tailored tools, everyone from high school students to governors will have the information they need to make education and workforce decisions. State leaders have an opportunity to prioritize the work necessary to build and maintain data systems that meet people’s current access needs.”

To make this change, state and federal leaders must invest in state data systems to ensure that they provide useful and timely information to individuals navigating education and workforce pathways as well as those helping them. 

  • No one state leader can tackle this work alone. Making this vision a reality will require attention from agency leaders, governors, legislatures, and other state leaders. With leadership, every state can act now on policy and practice changes that will enable robust access for individuals, the public, and policymakers alike. 
  • While states have been building cross-agency, longitudinal data systems for decades and have made notable progress, today’s state data systems, and the federal programs and funding streams that support them, are largely designed and used for system-level compliance and monitoring activities. The federal government has the ability to both ease and expedite state efforts to improve their SLDS. 

DQC’s resource offers state leaders a vision to work toward. Each of the four use cases— transition points in which SLDSs are uniquely positioned to support decisionmaking like supporting transitions from high school into college and career—are necessary and critical. They offer leaders a clear goal to anchor necessary policy changes and system improvements, grounded in how it will make life different for people. States must prioritize this work based on their unique state landscape. 

“It’s time for change. States have made strides to improve their data systems over the years, but data systems are still ill-equipped to meet today’s needs and, as currently designed, make it too hard for people to find the information they deserve to successfully navigating their pathways through education and the workforce,” said Bell-Ellwanger. “State and federal leaders must make data access a priority to ensure that individuals, the public, and policymakers can use the data they need to make decisions for their futures and the futures of the communities they serve.” 

DQC is not alone in demanding this change. There must be a national conversation—along with state and federal action—to ensure that individuals get the kinds of data access they need. The status quo is not enough.

To develop this vision for data access, DQC convened more than 40 national research, policy, and advocacy organizations to help us identify a set of transition points along the early childhood to workforce pathway where access to data from multiple systems is necessary to make decisions. DQC held individual conversations with state partners about our vision, the use cases, how the use cases might be implemented, and challenges to doing so, including convening 10 state data leaders to discuss the key components for implementing this new vision of state data systems, which informed a series of state and federal recommendations. 

For more information on how states can change their data systems and realize this vision of access for individuals, the public, and policymakers—including an infographic that illustrates what data access should look like—visit DQC’s website.


Quotes from the Field: 

“Too often, students leave high school unprepared for what comes next—many never having access to the rigorous courses and real-world work experiences they need to thrive. Access to data can change this,” said Anne Hyslop, director of policy development at All4Ed. “With robust access to tailored data, students will not only be able to clearly understand the pathways available to them, but also map out the path necessary to achieve their goals.”   

“It is more important than ever that our country invests in proven solutions that break down barriers that stand in the way of a strong, diverse, and equitable workforce,” said Chase Sackett, director of policy at America Forward. “Right now, one of the biggest barriers to that vision is access to data. Without robust, tailored access to data, policymakers cannot implement evidence-based, outcomes-oriented approaches to decisionmaking that increase equity, empower innovation among social entrepreneurs, and address some of our country’s largest education and workforce challenges.” 

“Nearly 60,000 providers currently offer more than one million credentials in the United States. People, no matter where they are in their journeys through education and the workforce, need access to clear, consistent, and comparable information about these credentials to understand the full range of opportunities for learning, advancement, and meaningful careers,” said Scott Cheney, Credential Engine’s chief executive officer. “To make this a reality, state leaders need to use open data about credentials and their skills, quality and outcomes, and create resources that empower people to find the pathways that are best for them.”

“Open data and evidence-informed public policy makes society better for everyone,” said Nick Hart, president of The Data Foundation. “To make decisions, individuals and the people who support them need accessible, trustworthy data—and policymakers have a responsibility to improve data systems to ensure that people have access to the data they need when they need it.”

“By not making access to vital data widely available, state leaders have stifled critical examination of longstanding economic and racial barriers that block students from low-income backgrounds and students of color from getting the information and resources they need to make critical decisions throughout their learning and development,” said Denise Forte, president and CEO of The Education Trust. “State leaders have a responsibility to provide data in ways that are easily consumable so all stakeholders can see systemic problems that exist and make equity-focused changes that can help all students successfully navigate a pathway through education to the workforce.” 

“All students deserve to make informed decisions about their career goals—and have access to pathways that help them develop the skills they need to advance through education and succeed in the workforce. Too often students and families do not know which college and career options are available, what steps are needed to take advantage of different pathways, or what the outcomes of each pathway are in terms of employment and wages,” said Melissa Canney, policy director at ExcelinEd. “Policymakers in every state can take meaningful action to strengthen their data systems and make this information available to empower students and their families with the information they need to make these important decisions.” 

“State Boards of Education are made up of citizen leaders who strive to strengthen public education systems for students of all backgrounds and circumstances—which means they need access to data as both state leaders and community members,” said Paolo DeMaria, president and CEO of the National Association of State Boards of Education. “Access to data strengthens their ability to ensure that students are prepared to succeed in school, work, and life. Without it, State Board Members lack the ability to properly evaluate which state policies truly support students and make necessary changes to ensure students are supported, at the state level and at home.” 

“Having access to data is critical to help give a clearer picture of where children are academically, help address learning gaps and tailor instruction to students, better support children’s learning and advocate on their behalf, and help ensure equity for all children. And it is critical that data is easy to find, clear, shared in culturally competent ways and provided alongside actionable solutions about how to address deficiencies and support learning in meaningful ways,” said Anna King, National PTA president. “Access to timely, secure, tailored data will give parents crucial tools they want and need to support their children, improve outcomes and help ensure they have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

“Access to data drives change. Leaders need to see what’s working and what isn’t, and provide people with the tools they need to make decisions about their education and career pathways,” said Jeannine LaPrad, managing director of policy and research at the National Skills Coalition. “States have a real opportunity to improve their data systems to ensure they can support people entering the workforce as well as those making career changes.”

“Black and other underserved students, parents, and communities continue to face complex barriers in pursuit of an equitable education. But data shines a light on these barriers and allows leaders and communities to begin to address them,” said National Urban League Vice President for Education Policy, Advocacy, and Engagement Dr. Horatio Blackmon. “State leaders must prioritize ensuring that their state data systems are comprehensive, transparent, user-friendly, culturally appropriate, and capable of providing communities with the information they need to make decisions.”

“Policymakers are committed to creating and implementing policies that work to support people through education and workforce pathways,” said Michele Jolin, CEO and co-founder, Results for America. “But without access to data that helps them answer their questions and understand what works and what doesn’t, evidence-based decisionmaking is a request rather than a reality. Policymakers need access to robust state data in order to make decisions and invest in what works.”  

“Data can be used to address both immediate needs and systemic issues, putting more young people on the path to economic mobility,” said Jennifer Blatz, president and CEO of StriveTogether. “But communities cannot use data to support their members if the data isn’t available and easy to use for decisionmaking. Access to data provides communities with the information they need to support students on their journeys from education through the workforce. Increasing access to that data must be a priority for leaders at all levels.”

“Leaders must do more to ensure that our schools fully unlock the potential of Latino students—including prioritizing actionable data and student-centered decisionmaking by providing access to transparent information on student success and outcomes throughout the P–20 pipeline,” said Roxane Garza, senior policy advisor for the Education Policy Project at UnidosUS. “To enable all students to navigate the education and workforce options available, leaders must provide robust access to data. Policymakers have a responsibility to provide access to this information in ways that make it easy to find and understand—including in languages other than English.”