By Diana Barnes
Today, colleges and universities spend a significant amount of time defending the value of a higher education degree to parents and incoming students. Often families are concerned with the acquisition of student loan debt—and as a result, they are more interested than ever in a demonstrable return on their investment.
American University decided to address this challenge head on by publishing student outcomes on their "We Know Success" website, which highlights employment trends, post-graduation salaries, and the extracurricular experiences that augment the students’ degrees.
Notable amongst other universities’ outcomes websites for both its comprehensive data and its visually-appealing design, the website is targeted towards prospective students and their parents. Like most, "We Know Success" allows them to explore outcomes by major type. But beyond placement and salary data, American’s outcomes dashboard allows users to click through to review outcomes at specific employers and graduate schools demonstrating the wide variety of high-quality careers that can result from all degree programs, even in the less professionally-oriented humanities.
They also display information on the kinds of experiential learning opportunities students in each major pursue, including the type of opportunity and the host or location. By providing more holistic information the website makes clear to students and parents that the degree will not only pay itself off, but provide valuable opportunities during the degree and after graduation.
For higher-priced private institutions, informational portals like this are quickly becoming a competitive advantage. For public institutions, these portals are likely to proliferate even without direct campus investment. State systems, legislatures, and coordinating bodies are increasingly developing outcomes dashboards intended to help prospective students and parents make more informed decisions.
The Indiana Commission for Higher Education recently launched the Indiana College Value Index—a web-based outcomes dashboard for Indiana public colleges and universities. Along with traditional student success metrics, the dashboard shares both short and long-term salary data.
The Indiana College Value Index dashboard also purports to share short and long-term career fulfillment metrics, as well as the percentage of students who felt aided by their institutions during their first job search. Alarmingly, very few institutions actually have data on these measures, leaving prospective students and their parents with salary data alone when trying to measure the career prospects they can expect from a specific institution. This kind of limited and incomplete data, shared broadly, makes it easier than ever for prospective students to make poor decisions about institutional fit.
Georgia and Texas both have similar data tools focused on graduate salaries. Legislators in Missouri have proposed requiring state colleges and universities to publicly post the current job market for particular degree programs. And with salary data increasingly available from external parties (e.g., College Scorecard) it is more important than ever for institutions to reclaim the conversation: providing their own data in an appropriate context and demonstrating that the value of the degree is more than just financial success.