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New Perspectives on Documenting Employment and Earnings Outcomes in Vocational Education (MDS-743)

D. W. Stevens, J. Shi

Vocational education in the United States faces an uncertain future. Congressional action to consolidate the federal government's investment in education and training programs is expected. One manifestation of an anticipated growth of contested markets for students who want to acquire, extend, or renew occupational competencies will be a perceptible ratcheting up of the accountability threshold. The message to vocational education management will be to provide credible evidence of high value-added performance at reasonable cost in an easily understood and timely manner.

This volume looks beyond the performance standards topic to satisfy the needs of local and state authorities who seek a better understanding of the employment affiliations and earnings paths of former vocational education students. The basic data source that is relied upon is the quarterly wage record submitted each quarter by employers who are required to comply with their state's unemployment compensation law. Each such record contains just three data elements: (1) an employee's social security number; (2) the reporting employer's unique unemployment compensation tax account number; and (3) the earnings paid to this employee by that employer during the reference year/quarter. Among the facets of performance measurement that are covered here are (1) the quality of available administrative records to carry out this documentation; (2) the confidentiality of the records as this may affect their adequacy for the intended purpose; (3) the importance of recording multiple observations of a former student's employment status and earnings; and (4) the concept of joint outcome.

The first section of this guide provides a brief but thorough introduction to three decades of research that has been conducted using the basic administrative record that is the core of what follows. The 1986-1995 decade of vocational education contributions should be of particular interest to most readers.

The second section introduces and elaborates upon an optics metaphor that weaves three concepts into a tapestry of understanding about the interplay of candidate qualifications, employer requirements, and employment opportunity as these ultimately determine whether and how a former student prospers in the workplace. A fundamental realization that emerges from this metaphor is that a single vocational education event cannot be easily isolated as the single force that resulted in a particular status such as placement or training related placement.

The third section sets forth and uses multiple concepts and measures of employment and earnings. The relevance of pre-enrollment, concurrent, and post-enrollment measures of each is emphasized. This section offers many examples of the weakness of single point-in-time measures of employment status, and documents why attribution of observed snapshots of employment as placements can not be sustained in many cases.

With the fundamentals out of the way, the fourth section explores refinements that are likely to be of interest to vocational education managers who see the possible payoff to gaining new insights about their program outcomes. Included among these refinements are (1) suggestions about the need to align the timing of exit from school when the employment status and earnings level of former students are examined; (2) the importance of documenting previous and continuing education for isolating the impact of a particular vocational education event; (3) how to deal with multiple employer affiliations in a single reference quarter; (4) methods to refine observed earnings figures to distinguish full-time and part-time employment; and (5) brief mention of the value of carrying out the specification of models of the dynamic forces that have been described, which can then be estimated with available data to obtain more credible evidence of the impact of vocational education on a former student's productivity in and rewards received from the economy.

This volume is designed to complement earlier guides that concentrated on the collection of information through state systems like Florida's Education and Training Placement Information Program, and the recently released report of the Joint Commission on Accountability Reporting, which seeks to achieve widespread uniformity of reporting practices and definitions. Here, it is assumed that the data has been, or can be, acquired. The examples offered move readers to the next plateau of understanding, which is what to do with the data and why it is important to do so.


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