August 10, 2017 by Luke Mason
Seventeen years ago, Emsi was born (CCbenefits, at the time) to study the economic contribution of community colleges on their students and stakeholders (taxpayers, businesses, etc.). The genesis of this work, which has become the Economic Impact Study, was ACCT and its president and CEO, Dr. Noah Brown. There was, and is, an acute need for community colleges to be able to tell their story in terms of dollars and cents and the return on investment they offered. So, many thanks to ACCT and Dr. Brown for what they helped start!
Emsi has stayed committed to community colleges. Now our work has expanded to include the following:
We’ve greatly enjoyed the work and are eager for more of it.
In this month’s Trustee Quarterly, Dr. Brown lays out the primary challenges facing America’s community colleges. We thought this was very helpful. Here we’ll summarize a handful of Dr. Brown’s points and discuss how data can help colleges be more strategic on these critical issues.
First, let’s touch on something near and dear to our hearts: How can community colleges proactively address employment outcomes for the sake of students, parents, and stakeholders who want to know the value of the school’s education?
With student debt at an all-time high, everyone is concerned about whether the money (and time) spent on education translates to improved outcomes. Naturally, the concept of alumni tracking and articulating the labor market outcomes of specific institutions and programs has become a dominant theme in the community college sector of late. We applaud the work of groups like the Aspen Institute and Achieving the Dream for the work they have done to raise this issue up the flagpole. Our goal is to come alongside such efforts, using our data to help colleges tie the knowledge and skills they provide to better career trajectories for students.
This, indeed, is why Emsi exists. We appreciate Dr. Brown’s comment: “Through this work, Emsi [is] helping colleges to better align their offerings, including certificates and degrees, to their local labor markets and employer needs. With the benefit of these insights, our institutions will become better equipped to improve employment and earnings throughout that nation.”
For years Emsi has been building data and services that make program alignment more data-driven. We’ve also brought this data to students so they can understand careers, what they pay, the education they require, and the like. The biggest new work we’ve embarked on relates to the use of résumés to track alumni in the labor market so we can see the types of jobs they get and whether these jobs relate to their college education and training. Read more about this new data. You can also attend our free webinar on August 24th. So far, the results of the résumé data have been fantastic (see a recent case study on Montgomery College) and we’d love to help more colleges gain this insight.
This aligns with the previous point. Completion and success go hand in hand with labor market outcomes. According to AACC, only 20 percent of degree-seeking students complete their goal. That’s not great. The good news, however, is that many colleges are out there, using data to boost completion rates and promote student success. The points made in the previous section also apply here:
As leadership changes in the White House and Congress, so does the support for the community college system. Colleges must stay on their toes and tell their story to each new administration that passes through Washington D.C. In this post-recession, cost-conscience era, politicians, eager to show that they support things that make sense for taxpayers, want to know if the community college system is actually worth it.
A good way to deal with this is by discussing the economic contribution of the community college system on alumni and the local economy, which brings us back to our introduction and our work through Economic Impact Studies. Today, we conduct some 100-150 studies annually to help colleges and universities articulate their ROI. Each year we see colleges take this message to local, state, and even national governments to articulate the role of the system on the economy.
According to Dr. Brown, “[Community] colleges have seen a 20-year decline in state support,” which makes it harder for them to operate. Community colleges look a lot different now than when they started. The critical point here is that in an effort to create institutional sustainability, “the focus is shifting to public/private partnerships and supplanting traditional income streams.”
Pretty much every college we work with is deep into new funding strategies. Lately, we’ve been able to contribute in this area by helping colleges identify the employers that hire a lot of their students. In some cases, the college were completely in the dark concerning their alumni’s outcomes. With Emsi’s new data, colleges realize there are a lot more businesses they should be talking to about hiring their students. They’re also conducting more conversations about how the business community (and specific employers) can support the college–so that it can continue to generate new talent in the very tight labor market.
No doubt about it: Community colleges are in a tough climate when it comes to enrollment. It’s a well known fact that when the economy improves, enrollment in the postsecondary system declines. According to Dr. Brown, “Public community college enrollment declined 9.6 percent over the past three years, from 6.3 million students in 2013 to 5.7 million in 2016.” Nationally, the high school /college age populations are also slightly down. Plus, more and more four-year providers and online institutions are seeking the same students that the community colleges traditional serve.
What can a college college do? How can data help?
Dr. Brown’s final point is especially important. Data is just a good ingredient to help change institutional, student, political, and business behavior. The foundational need, however, is for good leaders. Every solid best practice, conference talk, and case study we’ve ever seen has been more about the fearless leader who got in there and made something cool happen. The data is a tool. The tool doesn’t do the work. People do.
With this in mind, Emsi has gotten heavily involved with training and leadership development. Over the past few years, we’ve certified hundreds of people with our data so that they can use it more effectively. Once again, we’d also like to highlight the fantastic work accomplished by groups like Aspen’s College Excellence Program and Achieving the Dream, ever striving to produce the community college leaders of tomorrow.
More to come on these topics! Please let us know if you have thoughts or questions. Contact me at [email protected].