Hamilton Community Research Partnership project shows the potential benefits of data-sharing coalitions

In October of 2023, we published a data brief on the relationship between high school math classes and postsecondary choices:

In Ontario, information on a student’s educational journey from kindergarten through to postsecondary education (PSE) is tracked through the Ontario Education Number (OEN). However, data connected via the OEN is restricted to the Ontario government — and even then, OEN-linked data access is “limited and highly discretionary” preventing educational institutions, the PSE sector and the public from answering critical questions on student access and success. This creates an environment where Ontario is data rich, but information poor. To begin to address this situation, partners in Hamilton came together to form the Hamilton Community Research Partnership (CRP).

The CRP is a data-sharing coalition made up of six partners: The Hamilton-Wentworth public and Catholic school bards, McMaster University, Mohawk College, the Hamilton Community Foundation and the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO). The CRP members joined together with following three goals:

  • to better understand the education pathways of Hamilton students,
  • to develop and test a data-sharing mechanism using the OEN, and
  • to build trust and set up procedures for ongoing, collaborative education research in their community.

The pilot was successful in accomplishing each of these goals and successfully built a dataset that connected data across multiple school boards and postsecondary partners— the first of its scale in Ontario. The publication of two companion reports The Power of Connected Data: Charting Student Pathways to and through Postsecondary in Hamilton and CRP Blueprint: How We Built a Community Data Infrastructure — are the first to come from a planned long-term partnership and provides valuable insights into the pathways of students in Hamilton.

The Power of Connected Data finds that the same factors shown to predict postsecondary access most reliably in other parts of North America apply to Hamilton and may have broad applicability across Ontario. This is something researchers and educators have been reluctant to assume. Grade 9 credit accumulation and secondary grades were the strongest determinants of graduation at both secondary and postsecondary levels, when accounting for other socioeconomic factors. Other demographic factors, including neighbourhood income, secondary stream and exceptionality, were also closely tied to graduation. For example, students from higher-income neighbourhoods were more likely to graduate high school, confirm a university offer and pursue STEM programs — all of which lead to higher incomes. Students who pursued the academic stream in high school gained similar advantages.

CRP Blueprint delves more deeply into the process of setting up the CRP, including the practices established for dealing with issues such as protecting student privacy, and provides an outline for other organizations to follow. It is intended as a resource for other communities interested in establishing similar data-sharing partnerships to inform policy.

“Access to longitudinal data is critical to understanding how policymakers and practitioners can equalize opportunities for students—especially those who have historically been marginalized by and underrepresented in postsecondary”
CRP Blueprint: How We Built a Community Data Infrastructure

The CRP will continue to work together to maximize the potential of connected data. From what has been learned so far, they offer the following recommendations to the Ontario government:

  • Require that institutions collect consistent administrative and demographic data tied to the OEN.
  • Use the OEN to build a longitudinal data infrastructure for the province.
  • Make the anonymized data available for educational research.

The Power of Connected Data: Charting Student Pathways to and through Postsecondary in Hamilton was written by April Au, Jackie Pichette and Karen Robson. CRP Blueprint: How We Built a Community Data Infrastructure was written by Jackie Pichette, Lorraine Valmadrid and Sally Landon.