DataSpark draws attention to Rhode Island ‘brain drain’ – URI News

KINGSTON, RI – May 2, 2022 – As it turns 30, DataSpark, located at the University of Rhode Island Libraries, is about to embark on a major multi-state effort to determine if Rhode Island and its neighboring states are, in fact, experiencing a “brain drain”. DataSpark operates and maintains the Rhode Island Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS), also known as RI DataHUB, linking data at the individual level from infancy to the span of working life .

Together with New Jersey and Virginia, DataSpark will lead the effort to create a multi-state post-secondary report for New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Funded by the Coleridge Initiative’s Democratizing Our Data Challenge, the effort will securely link state-to-state education and employment records and explore the extent to which post-secondary graduates work out of state after obtaining their diploma.

According to DataSpark Director Dana Brandt, “This will be the first time that we will actually share and analyze data across states in this way to understand ‘brain drain’ and whether or not our students and professionals who are trained in Rhode Island, then actually work and stay here, or if they leave Rhode Island and get dragged into other states.

“Especially for those who hope to attract outside business to our state and want to brag about the fact that we have a well-trained and well-educated workforce, this is an extremely important study,” said the Dean of university libraries, Karim Boughida. “For policy makers, economic development managers, and business leaders, access to accurate data that can be collected, analyzed, and used in decision-making is invaluable.”

DataSpark was founded in 1992 as part of the nonprofit Providence Plan to Connect Data and People, with the goal of informing, empowering and inspiring innovative decision-making. For 30 years, he has assisted state and local government decision makers, community leaders in nonprofit organizations, and academic researchers across the country. In 2017 it became part of the University of Rhode Island and is now housed at the Robert L. Carothers Library & Learning Commons. The move to URI was a natural fit because academic researchers had a long history of collaborating with DataSpark and the two entities shared overlapping expertise as well as a common mission to move the state forward.

“We believed from the start that it would be a great collaboration,” Boughida said. “Our libraries were already involved in providing and preserving data in various forms, working with students, professors and researchers to solve complex problems from an interdisciplinary perspective. By bringing in a skilled team with additional data analysts and engineers, we were able to work together to best serve the interests of Rhode Islanders.

DataSpark has a large amount of individual education, health, labor and labor data (over 50 datasets) from 11 sources over the past 30 years. Yet many people are still unaware of the existence of this incredible resource that serves to help state agencies, legislators and others develop sound, evidence-based policies and evaluate the success of programs.

For example, it is well known that high levels of lead in the blood can impact a child’s brain development, leading to learning and behavior problems, as well as a host of other physical problems. . But how will exposure to lead affect the development of an individual child, and collectively, what impact will it have on a school district? Through a partnership between DataSpark and the Rhode Island Department of Health, health and education administrators and policy makers are able to conduct linked analysis to assess the educational impacts of lead exposure on Rhode Island children from every city and town — from chronic absenteeism to students being “held back” to test skills and individual education plans — and follow them into adulthood.

Kindergarten lead test results up by city/village

DataSpark’s comprehensive and interactive report on the educational impacts of lead exposure enables policy makers at the national and local level to use this data to implement more targeted and comprehensive efforts to screen children early; identify neighborhoods and housing stock at risk; undertaking reduction, awareness and education efforts; and help secure the necessary funding for these programs.

A cornerstone of DataSpark’s work is that data should inform policy-making. Among the group’s services are data analysis, data visualization, web application development, geographic information system mapping, data system development and reporting.

“DataSpark is about connecting people to and through data. Access to accurate, complete and reliable data is one of the hallmarks of good policymaking,” Brandt said. “Without this we are flying blind, but with good data the possibilities are immense.”

Yet while these resources are available to help state and local governments use taxpayer dollars wisely by developing targeted, cost-effective interventions, DataSpark itself has been in self-funding mode since its inception. For 30 years, DataSpark has sought grants from nonprofit foundations and federal agencies such as the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, while 17 other states across the country have codified their SLDS into law with a dedicated funding stream.

In addition to operating Rhode Island’s SLDS, DataSpark also manages the Rhode Island Office of the Post-Secondary Education Commissioner’s (RIOPC) data warehouse, integrating and linking data from Rhode Island’s three public institutions of higher education. DataSpark also supported the state’s response to COVID-19, loaning staff to the state’s response due to the team’s familiarity and experience working with state data. .

Rhode Island K-12 at a Glance (Rhode Island Talent Dashboard)

“We have done excellent work with and on behalf of our many state agency partners and others,” Boughida said. “Above all, DataSpark operates a secure system using the most modern tools, including artificial intelligence. We use a machine learning algorithm, built by DataSpark engineers, all in-house, to integrate, link and manage data. DataSpark is, in fact, ahead of many other systems nationwide.

Among the many resources available to policy makers and stakeholders through DataSpark is the Rhode Island Talent Dashboard, an interactive site that demonstrates the connections between K-12, post-secondary education and the workforce. The site tracks student performance over time, helps agencies evaluate program performance, answers questions across systems; and better reporting of results related to education and workforce programs. This includes data such as skill level, percentage of students graduating from high school within four years, percentage of college-ready graduates, and median post-graduation income, which can be filtered by gender, race, school district, education level and more.

Rhode Island Undergraduate Health Care Student Employment Outcomes

This spring alone, the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services commissioned DataSpark to analyze and share results on Rhode Island’s healthcare graduates and their employment outcomes at the Summit on the health workforce. This summit brought together education and healthcare providers and policymakers in a facilitated, collaborative, and data-driven process to identify short- and long-term solutions to Rhode Island’s healthcare workforce challenges. Using the RI SLDS, DataSpark found that more than three-quarters of Rhode Island healthcare graduates who entered the healthcare workforce remained employed in that workforce for a year. later. Retention is especially high for people training in high-demand fields like nursing and social work.

A longitudinal analysis exploring “Credentials of Value” is also available, conducted in collaboration with the Rhode Island Governor’s Office, the Governor’s Workforce Council, and contributing agency partners: Departments of Education and Rhode Island Labor and Training, as well as RIOPC, with assistance from the National Skills Coalition; which assesses labor market outcomes for those who do not have a post-secondary degree, but have another degree without a degree. The analysis includes median salaries for dozens of degrees and certifications and can be examined through various equity lenses (e.g., race, gender, socioeconomic status) to assess whether certain degrees may be more valuable than others.

Last fall, the RIOPC Advisory Board and the Rhode Island Foundation released reports recommending new investments and development of Rhode Island’s SLDS. While federal transfer funding in partnership with various Rhode Island state agencies has made its way to DataSpark, the majority of funds are project specific. Additional funding is needed to support the long-term sustainability of Rhode Island’s SLDS.

“DataSpark delivers tremendous value to the state, providing data to make informed decisions and develop effective policy — and evaluating the effectiveness of our state programs and investments,” Brandt said. “When we make ourselves smarter about the issues that affect people’s lives, we can do better for our state and its citizens.”

For more information on DataSpark or to explore its various reports and dashboards, visit:

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