Who’s watching your employment statistics?

Almost every day something comes across my desk with a ranking or a statistic on higher education. Some are relevant – “Best colleges in the nation.” “Best value in education.” Others are interesting but less substantive -“Best college campuses in the nation.” “Best college towns you might want to visit.” Whether relevant or not, these sorts of rankings get published because there’s a perceived public interest in validating higher education.

Each list has its own methodology and its own reputation. A growing number of these lists include as important metrics of success a juxtaposition of tuition and post-graduation employment or salary information. So for your university, who’s watching your employment statistics? And how do you impact them?

I would suggest that everyone colleges care about is watching the statistics. Let’s see if we can compile a list: there’s the students and their parents; there’s the alumni; there’s high school children and their parents; and there’s the faculty. Those are obvious. But the list goes on. The Department of Education has a stake in this, and particularly regarding for-profit universities, is proposing restrictions on student loans if completion and employment metrics are inferior. Anyone who believes this scrutiny will be limited to the for-profit sector is being naïve. Because congress is also watching – as the ultimate decision making body around funding education, legislators are watching the trillion dollar student debt balance in the US very carefully.

The point is this – whether in concrete regulations that will require better employment monitoring and results or as a component of decisions made around kitchen tables about which school to attend, a school’s ability to accurately monitor and positively position its efforts and results around career success is becoming more important.

So how can you impact your statistics? First, in order to improve, there must initially be good data. Most schools estimate their employment results based on surveys of their graduates. The surveys are not statistically valid and the results are self-reported by graduates, making them fundamentally flawed. Each school would be better served by a tool that captures real information from all students. The SIS does it for grades, because it’s an institutional requirement that this information is captured and retained. But because employment does not directly impact graduation, no systemic approach gathers employment data. This needs to change.

And once the data is available, it can be analyzed. What approaches to career success are working? Which disciplines need the most help, or are there disciplines that seem to do a better job than others by this measure? What best practices can be shared across schools within the university to improve employment stats? What efforts have individual students made to find employment? Is there a method to reach students who are not making employment progress and help them? The availability of relevant and accurate data allows all these sorts of questions to be asked and answered.

Unless your institution has or is considering these sorts of capabilities, the answer to the question “Who’s watching your employment statistics?” is -Everyone…except you.

Steve Giusto

CEO, Purposely