CHEYENNE – A new educational partnership in Wyoming will help improve education across the state.
A memorandum of understanding signed this week between the Wyoming Department of Education, Wyoming Community College Commission, University of Wyoming and all seven of the state’s community colleges allows the organizations to share student data with the goal of improving opportunities and support for students.
Sandy Caldwell, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, said, “It is a monumental occurrence. It has taken many, many years to get here.”
Joe Schaffer, president of Laramie County Community College, explained that officials from the organizations recognized they all had data about various educational topics, but they weren’t connecting the data.
As an example, Kari Eakins, communications director for the Wyoming Department of Education, said the department keeps data about students who earn the Hathaway Scholarship. But so do the colleges and the university, she said.
“The ability for us to share that data could mean that we would better be able to know how well we are administering the Hathaway Scholarship Program and then adjust accordingly if there are areas where we need to improve,” she said.
Officials expect the data can be used for far more areas, however. Those include students in K-12 education and post-secondary education.
Schaffer said, “Now we can actually take a look at both those students that successfully make transitions or struggle in making their transitions, and better understand what may be impeding their success and then intervene.”
He added that if they discover students from certain school districts transition to college better than others, they can use the data to try to find out why.
They also can look at how well advanced placement courses help students, what factors might contribute to students persisting toward their degrees or transfers, and various other possibilities.
According to a news release about the partnership, the MOU creates a process that will allow the organizations to share data about the Hathaway Scholarship Program, financial aid, recruiting, student success, virtual education, electronic transcripts, and dual and concurrent enrollment.
Eakins said those data sets are the starting points, but that officials won’t be certain what kind of data they can analyze until they have access to all the shared data.
But she said the data sharing will not begin until officials create a data governance structure detailing how the data will be shared and used while protecting student information and privacy, particularly under the requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
Eakins explained that each of the organizations included in the agreement will appoint a representative to the data governance committee, which will propose structure and policies to the executive governance board for approval.
“Wyoming really does a lot to protect student data and protect any information that could be potentially personally identifiable,” Eakins said.
She added the privacy requirements are different for K-12 and post-secondary education, so those needs must be considered.
Caldwell said they plan to use the data to understand better what is happening in education, but they have no plans to study that data at an individual student level.
The data sharing also will support the work of the Executive Educational Attainment Council, according to the news release.
Gov. Matt Mead created that council by executive order in August. An earlier executive order passed in January called on education organizations to increase the state’s post-secondary attainment rate to 67 percent by 2025.
Eakins said officials hope the information gained from the data sharing will help with that effort, as well.
Caldwell said the data sharing agreement also will help with the common course numbering and common transcript effort put in place by the Legislature in House Enrolled Act 47.
Schaffer said the opportunities created by the shared data will benefit students, as well as policymakers, business owners, etc.
“It’s a significant step in helping us better serve our community and our state, and everybody has an interest in it,” he said.