Colleges and Graduates, Survey Says...

A national survey uses commonly collected data from colleges to assess the postsecondary outcomes of graduates.

June 5, 2015

For the first time, the postcollege outcomes of recent graduates have been collected and analyzed by a national organization using data gathered by more than 200 higher education institutions, all using the same methodology.

A new survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers used data from 207 of its member institutions to determine the outcomes of roughly 274,000 graduates in the class of 2014. Officials behind the survey hope the results can set a baseline for where college graduates go once they leave the classroom and the consistent data may help others to determine trends in both labor and higher education.

The survey takes data from the individual institutions and breaks them down several times, including by level of degree of the graduate, size of the college attended, whether the institution was public or private and what kind of outcome the graduate landed in within six months of graduation. Surveys from individual colleges often use different types of criteria, measuring different factors from alumni and asking questions of graduates that another institution might not pose to those taking its survey, leading to disparate data that cannot be compared nationally.

Fifty-four percent of all graduates had found full-time employment, or what the graduate considered to be relatively steady hours and benefits, while about 75 percent had found some sort of “destination.” More than 80 percent of those with bachelor's degrees were in what the report described as a “positive outcome,” meaning that they were not still searching for a position or were not inactive in looking for a job or other alternative.

Ed Koc, the director of research, public policy and legislative affairs at NACE, said a panel made up of career service experts, statisticians and other relevant experts helped to create the methodology for collecting the data from recent graduates, including both what colleges should collect and what the organization would ultimately report.

He said the committee added many different kinds of “other employment” in the survey, including joining the military or some other kind of public service like the Peace Corps, working as a contract employer or doing freelance work.

Of those graduating with bachelor’s degrees, 62 percent were found to be employed, but only 58.4 percent had “standard employment.” Others fell into categories like “entrepreneur” or “postgrad fellowship/internship.”

Koc said the addition of these categories would give a more accurate and comprehensive depiction of the labor market for college graduates and help to identify trends over a longer period of time.

“One of the arguments I’ve seen is it’s more important what major you choose as opposed to what school you choose,” he said, referring to results described in the survey.

While 207 is a small sample for the approximately 2,600 higher education institutions in the U.S., Koc said he felt the organization was able to get a fairly representative sample because the averages remained about the same when new colleges were added to the total.

However, he noted that only one for-profit organization reported data, and if more for-profit programs reported in the future, it could sway the results. Otherwise, he anticipates the data remaining similar year to year, unless outside economic factors like a recession dramatically alter outcomes from recent graduates.

“Their inclusion in the data mix might significantly change the overall numbers in terms of graduates who are employed going on to continuing education,” Koc said.

The survey reported that 16.4 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees continued their education, while 20.4 percent of associate degree graduates followed the same path.

He said the organization had no way of determining whether or not the universities actually followed the methodology set by NACE, but he trusted the universities and had received enough questions about the survey that he was confident that they followed the standards.

Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, had not read the survey at the time of the interview, and said he’s always wary of surveys where he cannot assure the quality of data.

“I just wouldn’t overreach,” he said. “If I was putting out a report like this, I wouldn’t want to call it a baseline by which all future things should be compared.”

However, he said the data fell in line with what he would expect and matched with reports his own center had done on postgraduation employment.

He said after graduation, the labor market has to be prepared to take in a massive influx of new workers, and there’s a period of time where unemployment may be higher while the market adjusts accordingly.

“What we need to do is recognize that college graduates dump about 1.7 million new workers into the labor market,” Strohl said. “You’d guess that it takes a little time for the labor market to absorb all of these students.”


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