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Transforming Career Practices to Increase ROI and Equitable Career Success

Finding new ways to measure student success beyond salaries after graduation is key to prolonged student success.
Finding new ways to measure student success beyond salaries after graduation is key to prolonged student success.

As higher education recovers from COVID, continues to address structural barriers to equity, and prepares for the projected enrollment cliff, it is essential that institutions use data to define career mobility, articulate the value of their degrees and demonstrate how they are preparing students for success after graduation. Institutions are seeking data that answers questions such as: How do we demonstrate return on investment to prospective students and families? How can we measure student success beyond graduation and the first job? How do we identify equity gaps and know how to act to close those gaps? And how can we demonstrate that our institution is invested in preparing graduates for the future? The need for high-quality data on alum success is increasingly important.

The National Alumni Career Mobility Survey (NACM) was developed in 2019 by The Career Leadership Collective after hearing repeatedly from campuses around the nation about their need for better alum data. Campuses need a better way to measure student success beyond first job and salary. In addition, they need to be able to align alum success with their mission and have a feedback loop that informs thoughtful adaptation of practices on campus. The NACM survey gathers responses from alum 5 and 10 years after they obtain their degree and gathers data around six research themes: career pathways, career satisfaction, economic mobility, community engagement, educational satisfaction and learning outcomes and experiences.

Results from the 2021 NACM cohort will be released on August 12. Reserve your copy here. Excerpts from the National Report are below. Results begin by exploring the connections between alums’ motivation for obtaining a degree and their perceived return on investment.

  • Alums’ Motivations to Obtain a Degree: Respondents selected career success, intellectual development, financial gain, and career aspiration requirement as the top four motivations for pursuing a college education. Combining career and intellectual development questions shifts the conversation from intellectual pursuits OR career to an AND, with respondents wanting both while earning their degree.
  • Career Decision Making: The large majority (82%) of respondents decided on their career during college or after graduating, yet only 47% agreed that their institution helped prepare them for their career, and only 21% agreed that their institution invested in their career. This demonstrates a clear disconnect between respondents’ motivations for obtaining a degree, the availability of tools to assist with career decision making, and the career preparation needed to make informed career decisions.
  • Return on Investment: Just over half (57%) of respondents indicated that their degree was worth the tuition they paid. Those who agreed were more likely to say that their institution helped them prepare for their career and that their institution invested in their career. They also scored higher on the career mobility index. Alums perceive a higher value of their degree when they believe their institution invested in their career development. 

ROI is one measure of success, but few institutions track or evaluate the long-term success of their graduates. NACM does this by measuring career mobility. Additionally, while the few other measures of mobility focus primarily on salary, the Career Mobility Index™ (CMI) was created from NACM data to provide a more nuanced understanding of long-term student success beyond salary. Career mobility is defined as a combination of career pathway preparation, career satisfaction, and economic mobility. Once career mobility is understood and measured, we are better able to understand the connections between career mobility, return on investment, and the campus practices that influence both.

  • Career Pathway Preparation: Indicates whether respondents feel they have the skills to do quality work and measures educational impact on preparedness pre-career, in the beginning of their career, during career advancement, as well as preparedness for their current job.
  • Career Satisfaction: Indicates whether respondents are happy with their career, and measures educational impact on satisfaction with their whole career, which includes progression of career, career so far, current career, sufficiency of salary, and level of responsibility in current job.
  • Economic Mobility: Indicates whether respondents are financially stable and satisfied, and measures educational impact on earning history, trajectory, and potential, compared to the household in which they grew up.

Recent results explore the intersection between career mobility, ROI, equity, and high impact career practices that can transform alum success.

  • Career Mobility and ROI: Alums with high Career Mobility scores are 7.5 times more likely to agree that their degree was worth their tuition.
  • Career Mobility Overall: Nationally, only 42% of response scores were “high” on the Career Mobility Index indicating there is work to be done to ensure long-term alum satisfaction and success. High mobility scores were related to three overall themes. Institutions seeking to increase alum career mobility should focus on these areas: 1) transforming career preparation using the High Impact Career Practices, 2) reducing student loan debt, 3) continued development of influential skills.
  • Equity in Career Mobility: Significant career mobility equity gaps were identified in the categories of race, gender, first-generation and age. The data suggests that to address equity gaps, particular attention should be made to ensure access for historically marginalized groups to three of the High Impact Career Practices: 1) networking with employers 2) career planning 3) understanding career opportunities. In addition, institutions need to address student loan debt, particularly for these populations.

High Impact Career Practices strongly influence Career Mobility, ROI and can close equity gaps. The High Impact Career Practices allow for a campus to focus on the most strategic career practices and consider how they might become more embedded into the life cycle of instruction, curriculum, the co-curricular, and advising practices on campus. Analysis of NACM data has consistently identified six (6) high impact career practices.

  1. Understanding career opportunities
  2. Creating a career plan
  3. Networking with employers
  4. Having an internship related to their career
  5. Receiving helpful career advice (in general, but especially from faculty or employers)
  6. Learning critical thinking

Respondents who engaged in the High Impact Career Practices are more likely to have higher career mobility scores, decide on their career in high school or during their degree, and perceive their degree to be worth the tuition they paid.

At the intersection of career mobility, return on investment and equity is how institutions are transforming practice to ensure long-term success of their graduates. The NACM data provides a map for how campuses can utilize the High Impact Career Practices to ensure student success well beyond graduating with their degree while also seeing increased gains in ROI. The NACM Annual report includes more details around the above themes. Reserve your copy at The Career Leadership Collective’s website.

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