Building states’ capacity to leverage data and behavioral science strategies for the public good

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Long-term Partnerships to Create Systemic Change

Robust, long-term, and inter-agency state partnerships hold tremendous promise as a vehicle to improve college completion and workforce success. Many of these agencies’ constituents are from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds or from demographic groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in higher education and certain workforce sectors, so state agency partnerships also offer a powerful avenue through which to reduce educational and economic inequality in society.

Nudge4 has formed long-term partnerships with agencies in Virginia, Tennessee, and Indiana to build their capacity to leverage data and behavioral science strategies to improve postsecondary and labor market outcomes for underrepresented and adult student populations. Our partnerships build agencies’ capacity to apply, and rigorously evaluate, advanced analytic and behavioral strategies to identify residents most in need of support and to connect these individuals to tailored educational and workforce resources and pathways.

The Problem

Social mobility in the United States has declined steadily over the past several decades. Mobility rates are particularly low for young people of color. The result is large and persistent gaps in economic status by family income, race and ethnicity. While postsecondary education remains an effective avenue through which low-income children can achieve greater economic success, the share of college students earning a degree is stagnant and socioeconomic disparities in college completion are large.

The Team

With generous support from the Lumina Foundation and Overdeck Family Foundation, we embedded a data scientist at each partner agency as well as hired a full time behavioral scientist dedicated to our state partnership projects.

Katherine Flaschen is a Senior Associate at ideas42 and serves as a behavioral scientist for the Nudge4 Solutions Lab. Prior to joining ideas42, she worked for The Decision Lab, where she applied behavioral economics to financial education and decision-making. Katherine also previously worked as a product manager for TripAdvisor, where she managed a team of engineers and designers to launch consumer-facing products on the site, and utilized user research and human-centered design to inform product development. She holds a Master’s in Behavioral Marketing and Consumer Behavior from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Her thesis studied the effects of social influence on people’s motivation to perform health behaviors.  

Chad Murphy is an embedded data scientist at our Virginia partner, the Virginia Community College System. He earned a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Riverside with a concentration on American Politics and Quantitative Methodology. He has published articles in top peer-reviewed journals such as Journal of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, Political Geography, and Presidential Studies Quarterly. His research has been featured in international, national, and local media including The New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He was formerly an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Mary Washington. 

The TBR Office of Policy and Strategy, research and data team, includes 8 people responsible for research, policy analysis, collecting and reporting data, and working with TBR’s 40 community and technical colleges to understand data that informs student success. The team includes Russ Deaton, Executive Vice Chancellor for Policy and Strategy, and Amy Moreland, Director of Policy.

Ryan Hastings is an embedded data scientist at our Indiana partner, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (CHE). After getting a BS in mathematics from the University of Texas, he earned a PhD in Meteorology from Penn State. His post-doctoral work has included stints at Purdue University and the National Severe Storms Laboratory. He has extensive experience developing and testing hypotheses with large data sets that he now brings to bear on public policy.

A Deep Dive into the Data

An inter-agency state partnership model provides numerous complementarities:

  • Higher education agencies have strong relationships with institutions of higher education, detailed, student-level historical data on students’ academic progress towards degree; and access to various forms of contact information for current and former students.
  • State workforce commissions have detailed information on individuals’ prior and current work experience; contact information for individuals who are receiving unemployment benefits or who are engaged with workforce agencies; and strong relationships with regional workforce development boards.
  • State social service agencies have contact information for individuals and families obtaining various social services that states provide, and may provide a point of contact and engagement for adults who have completed some college but do not currently have formal engagement with education or workforce agencies.

The Innovation

Through these partnerships, Nudge4 and its partners build agencies’ capacity to apply advanced analytic strategies to state data, with the goal of identifying residents most in need of support and to connect these individuals to tailored educational and workforce resources and pathways. The results of these analyses lead to the design of pilot interventions that connect students and adults to tailored education and employment opportunities and support residents — youth and adult — to access relevant state policies and programs, such as state financial aid programs or workforce training opportunities.

State partnership projects include:

Tennessee Reconnect

VCCS Employment Pathways

Originally published via LinkedIn Pulse, view article here.

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