State data may enable outreach to adults who would benefit from completing degree

A growing number of states are tracking their residents’ education levels and employment histories, and researchers are seeing an opportunity to help identify adults who didn’t finish college but could improve their quality of life by going back to school.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently detailed the work of Ben Castleman and his colleagues at the University of Virginia’s Nudge Solutions Lab, who plan to use “the information, along with data and behavioral-science techniques, to actually help residents improve their incomes and maybe even their job satisfaction.”

Backed by the Lumina and Overdeck Family Foundations, the Nudge lab initially will partner with Indiana, Tennessee, and Virginia education leaders to identify workers who could put themselves in the running for more lucrative positions if they could complete their degree. The hope is to contact those potential students via the community college system to encourage a return to school and, ideally, increase awareness of available financial aid.

Castleman points out how the statewide longitudinal data will enable unusually targeted outreach; most programs that encourage adults to finish their degrees “ten[d] to be fairly uniform and fairly general,” he said. Virginia’s community college system plans to use the resulting insights to identify students who previously took courses that map to IT, manufacturing, and health care—three high-priority industries for the state.

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