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Bridging the Gap: How Labor Market Information Can Enhance Institutional Strategy and Student Outcomes

Bridging the Gap: How Labor Market Information Can Enhance Institutional Strategy and Student Outcomes
Data can play a key role in structuring programming and aligning institutions with workforce development. Labor market information can deliver the kind of insight students need.

Labor market information (LMI) has increasingly become a vital data source for colleges and universities seeking to improve student outcomes and stay competitive and relevant amid changing social and economic conditions. To fully utilize LMI, institutions require collaborative efforts and funding to support knowledge sharing and the development of infrastructures that align with educational institutions’ missions and various programs.

Amid calls for more accountability and transparency around how degrees connect to work, a quickly shifting labor market and declining undergraduate enrollment, labor market information (LMI) has become increasingly relevant to colleges and universities. LMI, defined as employment data by location and occupation, labor supply and demand, earnings, unemployment and labor force demographics is a valuable tool that can help postsecondary institutions understand and respond to the changing labor market. Findings from our recent research on LMI usage in higher education show varied uses including for program review, academic and strategic planning, and recruitment and enrollment.

However, questions remain about whether institutions have the capacity and resources to use LMI fully. This article explores what educational institutions can do to promote their use of LMI to stay competitive and relevant while navigating changing social and economic conditions. We also discuss what employers and policymakers can do to ensure institutions have access to quality, relevant LMI to support their work.

How Educational Institutions Use LMI

A variety of factors influence how colleges and universities adopt LMI in their work. so no two institutions will adopt and institutionalize LMI usage in the same way. Mission, for example, affects how colleges and universities approach using LMI. Workforce-oriented institutions and programs may be more likely to consider alignment with the labor market an important goal and incorporate LMI use into core activities. Institutions and programs with a liberal arts focus have different goals. Instead of using LMI to align their programs to the employers’ specific needs, they may use LMI to show their programs help students develop broad skills that employers desire.

The Impact of Resources

Financial resources can also impact this work. In our research, we found that effective use of LMI involved staff across divisions collaborating and integrating multiple LMI sources. Using multiple sources of LMI requires resources to support the time it takes staff to collect and analyze these data and sometimes to purchase access to private data products. Without the resources to support these efforts, data use may be restricted to certain areas of the institution and by the limitations of any single data source.

Recommendations for Educational Institutions

Recognizing these influences on LMI adoption, we offer several recommendations for how institutions can promote their usage and institutionalization of LMI:

  • Develop institutional policies and procedures supporting data infrastructure including specific staff roles and responsibilities for data use and discussions about using LMI. Policies and procedures should be grounded in the institutional missions and goals for LMI use. They should also promote the integration of multiple LMI sources and uses across parts of the institution to support widespread use.
  • Prepare faculty and staff members to understand, use and interpret LMI through ongoing, long-term professional development that includes dedicated time to learn about LMI, its benefits and challenges and collaborative discussions of LMI for decision-making.
  • Collaborate with other higher education institutions, agencies, state entities and employer partners to advocate for more affordable, timely, accurate and context-relevant LMI.

Recommendations for Employers and Local Workforce Partners

Employers and local workforce partners are important stakeholders in college and universities’ efforts to respond to the changing labor market. Both groups are interested in ensuring that colleges and universities have access to quality LMI and can use those data to make decisions to support student outcomes and respond to labor market needs. To support institutions’ LMI use, we offer the following recommendations for employers and local workforce partners:

  • Extend collaboration efforts—including workforce development efforts, industry convenings and career pathways programs—to four-year colleges and universities while continuing to support two-year colleges.
  • Share timely, relevant and accessible skill information to support collaborations and shared initiatives.

Recommendations for Policymakers

Policymakers are a significant stakeholder group that can promote LMI use in higher education by improving the support that institutions receive to engage in this work and institutions’ access to quality LMI. We offer the following recommendations to policymakers:

  • Expand the external support of state entities (e.g., state higher education systems offices, departments of labor and state or regional initiatives) to a network of higher education institutions.
  • Expand policy support to improve access to various types of LMI, reduce data access costs and help institutions overcome other barriers to expanding LMI uses (e.g., supporting college staff professional development and data sharing across institutions and regions).

In summary, the use of labor market information (LMI) offers promise for higher education, especially as institutions face the needs of today’s rapidly changing job market. Yet, for LMI to reach its full potential, a collective effort is required from educational institutions, employers and policymakers to support the use of data-driven approaches using timely, relevant and affordable LMI data. These efforts have the potential to better align higher education with workforce needs to improve student outcomes and to shape a labor force that meets 21st-century demands.