As the spring semester ends, colleges and universities nationwide come alive with energy as students graduate and take their first steps into the professional world. This season also provides an opportunity for institutions to take a deep dive into their students’ data, see where students landed in the workplace based on their program of study, and identify the specific ways that higher learning provides a return on investment to students entering the workplace.

As students continue to grapple with the value proposition of a postsecondary credential, college and university board members are positioned to engage with the campus leadership team to determine how well students have been prepared on a path toward employment or further education. Board members should also examine the academic standing of current students by reviewing DFW rates (low grades and withdrawals), attrition rates, or other persistence data. With increased attention on student debt, declining enrollment in postsecondary education, and a shift toward more skills-based hiring, now more than ever, students and institutions are focused on credential attainment linked to skills needed for today’s jobs.

The Importance Of Data: From Onboarding To Exit Surveys

Board members play a vital role in ensuring that each institution collects and evaluates data on their students as they move through the institution and into the workforce. Many institutions use their data to inform the scope of support services necessary for students to successfully navigate their programs of study to completion. Much of this effort is focused on ensuring that students are achieving the prescribed benchmarks set forth in Tennessee’s outcomes-based funding formula. This level of student success programming has been in direct connection with students receiving the academic, social, and financial support needed to complete their degree programs.

As students approach college graduation, many institutions administer exit surveys that gain insight into a student’s intended next steps. These surveys should be a high priority for the offboarding experience at each college or university for institutions to understand what students intend to do after exiting the higher education system. In addition, to better inform campuses on student careers post-graduation and workforce outcomes for noncompleters, it would be helpful to have state data available on students’ workforce outcomes once they leave an institution.

Recent Survey Data Suggest Students Are Focused On Success After Graduation

Additionally, board members should ensure colleges and universities are increasingly focused on student success after graduation. Recent polling data show that 18-to-24-year-old Tennesseans are more averse to debt and skeptical about the associated earning differential. In addition to obtaining a degree or credential, Tennesseans want to be certain their earnings will be sufficient to justify the effort and cost (i.e., return on investment). Board members should identify key data points that will inform them how their institution is doing as it relates to how students transition from college to career.

Moreover, to ensure the institution is producing graduates ready for careers that enable economic independence, each campus should seek to align tenets of their strategic plan with the employment demands outlined in the state’s workforce data.

At summer board meetings, here are some points for board members to consider to help ensure they are effectively supporting their college’s mission and outcomes:

  • What major employers recruit on campus?
  • How many students are participating in an internship?
  • Does your campus administer exit surveys?
  • What type of roles or positions did students land?
  • What is the average starting salary disaggregated by discipline?
  • How many graduates from each college and department?
  • How many students are within 12 to 15 credit hours of graduation?
  • How many students are three to six credit hours from attaining (30, 60, 90 credit hours)?
  • How many students are participating in the summer bridge experience?
  • How can the board elevate resources to support workforce initiatives and skills-based programming across offices (e.g., career center) and academic units?

As the academic year ends, it is the perfect time for board members to review and reflect on the previous year and provide policy and funding recommendations that support sunsetting projects that may not be yielding a significant return on investment. Using data to evaluate, reimagine, revise, and scale strategies that work with an increased focus on supporting students from college to career is a worthwhile opportunity. As your institutions plan to implement evidence-based strategies, or are eager to engage in a pilot project, having the support of board members to launch and/or scale strategies is critical to the campus’s viability. More importantly, an effective starting point to moving the institution forward is having the relevant data to capture the nuances of outcomes for students who are returning, those who are closer to completion, and, lastly, students who are at the end of their postsecondary journey.

Dr. Shelby Rogers is SCORE’s senior director of postsecondary innovation.

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