Summer 2023 State Data Policy Internship Research

December 18, 2023

Discusses research studies conducted by New Jersey Statewide Data System interns during the summer of 2023.

by Ahmad Salman Zafar

The Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, which administers the New Jersey Statewide Data System (NJSDS), held its State Data Policy Internship program in summer 2023. Three graduate students were selected for the program and completed training on project scoping and data analytics using NJSDS. This year’s summer interns were:

  • Darshan Senthil - Master of Science in Computer Science, Rutgers University
  • Akash Shanmugam - Master of Information Technology and Analytics, Rutgers University
  • Sasya Thanhallapally - Master of Science in Information Technology, Arizona State University

The Heldrich Center crafted projects for the interns based on the specific needs of the partnering state agencies, aiming to enhance interns' comprehension of administrative data and empower them to provide insights for informed decision-making in related areas.

Throughout the internship, participants received hands-on training in analyzing administrative data to identify trends in education and workforce dynamics. The primary focus was on presenting these findings to decision-makers. The internship emphasis was on unraveling complex data and transforming descriptive statistics into meaningful trends, providing an opportunity for the interns to further develop their careers in data analytics.

The culmination of these efforts resulted in a valuable set of findings, metrics, and data. The intention is for these resources to serve as a guide for decision-making within the relevant state agencies, aligning with their research objectives, programs, and vision. Each project provided important insights that provide a framework for future analysis.

Career and Technical Education (Darshan Senthil)

An important objective of New Jersey’s 2020 Combined State Plan for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is to facilitate adults in New Jersey to earn an industry-valued postsecondary credential or degree (New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, 2020). Recent global workforce trends necessitate more opportunities for adults to gain credentials beyond high school. CTE offers opportunities to students to gain technical and soft skills to prepare them for job market during and after high school. Using NJSDS, this study tracked a cohort enrolled in industry-based postsecondary programs that the State of New Jersey has identified as industry-valued credentials to ascertain student completion and employment characteristics. Research findings indicate that the majority of the students were enrolled in computer and information sciences programs followed by accounting technology/technician and bookkeeping. More than one-third of CTE program enrollees were able to earn a credential in three years after enrollment and the majority of these completers attended community colleges in New Jersey. The majority of the CTE earners were male and the same pattern was observed while tracking completion and employment status of the cohort. An important highlight of the project is that the median quarterly wages of employed students increased steadily in each of the first four quarters post-completion. Future research may further investigate industries joined by CTE program beneficiaries in the state to provide insights by industry and geographic area in the state.

Analysis of Literacy Programs (Akash Shanmugam)

Adult and community-based education programs promote educational equity and provide a career advancement platform for those who may not receive formal education. Such programs are important to upskilling community members. LACES (Literacy, Adult, and Community Education System) is the student data management system designed specifically for adult and community education programs. In this project, the intern tracked educational and employment outcomes of a cohort enrolled in different literacy and adult education programs using NJSDS. This analysis included completion characteristics of different adult and community education programs and examined subgroup differences on race, gender, and program level to record any major disparities. Analysis of the LACES program indicates that more than two-thirds of the total program enrollees did not complete their respective programs. Employment rates increased gradually up to four quarters following program exit. Median quarterly incomes also increased slightly at the end of four quarters tracked for this project when compared to wages for the first quarter. This project builds a foundation for future work on this topic, highlighting salient features of the LACES program in the state and provides insights that could be useful for designing interventions to improve program outcomes and maximize benefits for the beneficiaries.

Economic Mobility (Sasya Thanhallapally)

Postsecondary education plays a crucial role in upward economic mobility. However, many enrolled students drop out of college due to financial constraints that hinder their long-term career prospects. Economic mobility aims to overcome these barriers by ensuring equal opportunities of academic and professional growth for all genders, races, and social and economic classes. Research suggests that demand for postsecondary education typically increases during periods of economic downturn and helps in reducing unemployment rates, which in turn has a positive impact on household income, health outcomes, and civic engagement (Hinh, 2023). It is particularly important for researchers to know about the trajectory high school graduates adopt to better inform policymaking around college education and workforce development to ensure economic mobility for the state. This project tracked postsecondary educational and employment outcomes for New Jersey students who entered college in 2012 and 2013. The focus of the project was to analyze the proportion of students who pursued and successfully attained a college degree. It also highlighted differences in average earnings among those who did and did not complete a degree, and underscored the prevalent subgroup differences in these two categories of college enrollees across gender, race, and region. The study also tracked the median income of students based on their academic standing, revealing that those who are earning the highest wages among the cohort earned greater than a 3.5 grade point average during college. Median earnings of students based on their enrolled major were also calculated, and the findings suggest that students who pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) majors in college earned more than their non-STEM counterparts on average. This project paves the way for future research around this topic, particularly difference in wages within program area based on their college completion status. Such insights will better inform policymaking in the state for designing programs to improve educational and economic outcomes to ensure upward economic mobility by promoting equity.


Hinh, I. (2023). Risk of recession highlights need for states to support higher education. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. (2020). New Jersey combined state plan