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Postsecondary Education: Many States Collect Graduates' Employment Information, but Clearer Guidance on Student Privacy Requirements Is Needed

GAO-10-927 Published: Sep 27, 2010. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 2010.
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Postsecondary education plays an important role in producing a skilled workforce able to compete in the global economy. Some stakeholders have suggested that collecting information on graduates' employment outcomes--whether they are employed in their field of study, for example--will provide better information to help assess the impact of a postsecondary education. The Higher Education Opportunity Act directed GAO to study the information that states have on the employment outcomes of postsecondary graduates. This report describes (1) the extent and purposes for which states collect employment-related information and the challenges they faced in doing so, (2) potential approaches to expanding states' collection efforts across states and nationwide, and (3) how selected states and schools collaborate with employers to align education and workforce needs. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed relevant research and interviewed officials from the U.S. Departments of Education (Education) and Labor, as well as postsecondary institutions, state agencies, and employers in seven states and two countries selected based on their data collection capabilities.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education To help address states' information needs, Secretary of Education should develop and disseminate guidance that clarifies the means by which state education agencies can share student records to facilitate obtaining graduates' employment information while ensuring appropriate privacy protection under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In addition to establishing a time frame for implementation, this guidance should include how student records could be shared with state labor agencies, and how states can share data with one another.
Closed – Implemented
Education issued final regulations in December 2011 to clarify and update guidance related to FERPA in order to give states the flexibility to share data. Specifically, the regulatory changes would permit education agencies to non-consensually disclose personally identifiable information to other state agencies, such as a state workforce agency. As a result, states have specific guidance for, and requirements related to, matching education records with employment records.

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