3 Ways Postsecondary Institutions are Using LMI

Examples from two innovative institutions

Published on Jun 4, 2024

Written by Remie Verougstraete

If you’ve ever wanted to sit down with experienced higher ed leaders and hear how they use labor market information to improve program decisions and grow enrollment…here’s your chance.

Last fall, the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) hosted a webinar featuring two innovative leaders: Dr. Tana Hicks, Senior Director of the Labor Market Intelligence Center at Dallas College, and Dr. William Salka, Provost and Professor of Political Science at Eastern Connecticut State University. 

Their discussion built on findings from a report published in May of 2023 by the Education and Employment Research Center at Rutgers SMLR, entitled Emerging Insights into the Use of Labor Market Information in Postsecondary Education – an in-depth, 58-page report that is well worth your time (though you can also use the 8-page Issue Brief to get a basic idea of the findings.)

Throughout the webinar, researcher Victoria Coty presents highlights and key takeaways from the report while Dr. Michelle Van Noy interviews Dr. Hicks and Dr. Salka, surfacing real-world examples of how labor market information (LMI) is enabling strategic growth and success at their institutions.

Though Lightcast wasn’t part of the webinar, the topic is one we care deeply about (plus, we have the pleasure of working with both Dallas College and ECSU!). So, in this short post, we want to highlight three key examples from this valuable discussion and, at the end, share a few ways Lightcast can help:

1) Using LMI to grow enrollment

About nine minutes into the discussion, Dr. Salka shares how Eastern Connecticut State University uses skills information from real-time job openings data. He explains that the institution faced declining enrollments in various academic programs (not just the humanities!) due to students' concerns about the return on investment in their education.

“Students are very concerned about a return on the investment that they put into getting a college education,” Salka points out in the webinar. “They need to see a very clear path between the major they're going to choose and a career that they're interested in once they graduate.”

To address this, the university uses LMI to present hard data on the skills developed in specific majors and how they can translate into careers. For example, the biology department has employed LMI to communicate with prospective students and their families, assuring them of the career prospects associated with a biology degree. 

“So what we've done is we've used LMI to make sure that students can see hard data on the skills that they're developing in a particular major, and how that can translate into a career,” explains Salka.

In other words, LMI serves as a recruiting tool, enabling the university to demonstrate that the skills gained in their programs align with employer needs, and providing independent data to support these claims.

2) Using LMI for program decisions

The Emerging Insights report showed that program review was the most common use case for LMI across both colleges and universities. About 12 minutes into the webinar, Dr. Hicks elaborates on this by explaining how Dallas College utilizes LMI in developing and reviewing programs. As part of their process, faculty or department chairs interested in creating a program consult the Labor Market Intelligence Center (LMIC) for supporting data. The center then analyzes the market for occupations related to the proposed program.

Dr. Hicks highlights a few key data points they focus on for this analysis:

  • Current employment numbers

  • Projected job growth

  • Wages (specifically, whether they meet or exceed the living wage in Dallas County)

The LMIC also collaborates with the Employer Resource Center to identify employers in need, fostering partnerships and ensuring students have access to relevant opportunities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The primary focus, says Dr. Hicks, is on connecting students with well-paying jobs linked to the programs created, emphasizing collaboration across various college teams to build a supportive ecosystem for student success.

3) Using LMI in the liberal arts

The webinar also addresses the unique priorities of liberal arts colleges and programs in utilizing labor market information.  About 15 minutes in, Dr. Salka explains how they tackle this challenge at Eastern Connecticut State University, which is the state’s only public liberal arts institution.

ECSU emphasizes the value-added aspect of a liberal arts education, highlighting a common set of skills provided to every graduate alongside major-specific skills. Their liberal arts core (LAC) includes five student learning outcomes: critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, communication, ethical reasoning, and creativity. 

LMI is crucial in this context, as the institution uses data to show that these outcomes align with the skills most cited by employers across various industries and careers. (While not mentioned in the webinar, Lightcast’s work with America Succeeds on Durable Skills is another good resource for demonstrating the enduring value and relevance of skills that are often developed in liberal arts programs).

By integrating LMI into their curriculum decisions, the university assures prospective students that they will acquire skills essential for success in any career, making their education more marketable. Dr. Salka also emphasizes the role of LMI in addressing faculty concerns about adequately preparing students for the job market, providing assurance that the skills taught align with market demands.

Next steps: Finding the right tools for the job

If you’re feeling inspired and want to make better use of LMI at your institution, we’re happy to help. Here’s a few of the ways we’re already serving over 1,000 colleges and universities just like Dallas College and ECSU:

  • Analyst - Our flagship LMI tool for market research and program review. Combines traditional government data on occupations and industries with real-time insight from employer job postings, including in-demand skills and insight into emerging industries and occupations. Ideal for supporting data-driven program decisions and validating employer demand for both fast-growing technical skills and durable soft / human skills.

  • Career Coach - An all-in-one solution for career and academic exploration. Career Coach lets you deliver Lightcast LMI to your current and prospective students via a branded web portal that ties back to the programs you offer. It provides that “clear path” Dr. Salka talked about, so that students can see how their major connects to career opportunities in your area. 

  • Program Demand Gap Analysis - Let our team of economists do the number crunching for you. This data-rich report is customized to your institution (e.g. maps your programs and completions to your region’s economy and employment trends), and provides you with a comprehensive, objective, data-driven look at your current program-to-market alignment. It identifies struggling programs to evaluate, thriving programs to grow, and new program opportunities to consider.

There’s more to explore (including tools to help you track alumni career pathways), and if you’re not sure where to start, we’d love to connect so we can hear about your needs and help you find the right solution. Just reach out! Or check out our newly revamped guide to market research to see more about how Lightcast data can support your work.