Colleges and universities that conduct an annual first-destination survey (FDS) to capture information regarding how their new college graduates fare in their careers within six months of graduation can benefit their own institutions and demonstrate the value of higher education.
Schools equipped with this knowledge have evidence of the impact and value of earning a degree at their institution. This is key information for marketing to prospective students, securing grants and funding, adjusting programming to account for market demands, and more.
“Schools are able to analyze their own FDS results, tailor their surveys to ask items that are important to their communities, and then report that information back at the school level,” says Angelena Galbraith, NACE researcher.
The NACE First-Destination SurveyGet the survey template and timeline for the Class of 2023, plus standards and protocols for conducting the survey, here.
“This promotes to future graduating classes the value of their degree and the potential career paths on which they could find success. Sharing their data internally and on campus is helpful. Sharing the data with future graduating classes also instills the importance of the data collection and proves to students the success past graduates have achieved because of their degrees.”
There are a multitude of ways schools can use the FDS data, for example, to parse out gender and demographic data and specific program success in leading students to secure employment. In addition, NACE encourages schools to go beyond the standard questions and ask students about services, experiences, satisfaction and other areas that might be helpful to their office or institution.
Furthermore, schools that report their FDS data to NACE provide valuable information that the association compiles and analyzes to obtain and share clear, concise, and consistent data on the outcomes associated with a college education on a national scale. In addition to providing outcomes for individual classes, the NACE FDS yields trends data over time to inform the discussion about the value of higher education. This information can show schools how they compare to national data.
Galbraith encourages schools to strive to achieve the highest possible rate of verifiable information on graduate outcomes, with a floor of 65%.
“This,” she says, “ensures colleges are getting the most out of their data. However, if a college does not reach the 65% threshold, it can still submit its responses to NACE.”
Obtaining Data From Students: Strategies and Tactics
Schools use various strategies to obtain data from graduating seniors. Some seek guidance and support for FDS collection from institutional research (IR). At other schools, IR conducts the FDS.
NACE members have several strategies for boosting their knowledge rates:
- Many make completing their FDS a requirement of graduation in some capacity, including requiring students to fill out the FDS to receive their commencement tickets or to pick up their cap and gown.
- Requiring FDS surveys to be completed for capstone classes is an effective method.
- College members in the NACE Community recently discussed conducting texting campaigns to gather FDS data. One participant said her school uses a system developed by a business information systems professor to text its graduates for FDS with positive results. The in-house system is used by a few departments on campus and students provide consent for the university to contact them through the it at enrollment. The system accesses students’ contact information from the central database, meaning the career center does not have to manually enter or import it.
- Outreach to students should be personalized and not seem like an impersonal, mass solicitation. Explaining why FDS is important to each graduating class—for example, by creating short videos to embed into emails—promotes participation as well. Galbraith recommends using students’ personal email accounts rather than school addresses—which graduates are less likely to check—to obtain FDS data after graduation.
- Many colleges use third-party CMS providers, LinkedIn, and information provided by alumni relations, faculty, and others within the campus community to cull FDS information about graduates who have not filled out the survey.
- The survey team can involve others in the process—such as student workers and/or other career center staff members—so it is more comprehensive and less all-consuming for the point person.
- The survey team can use FDS data to create an annual report that is shared with the president, board of trustees, and on the career center’s website. In addition, the team can create a printout of the key data to be handed to families of incoming students during tours. Other uses include providing tailored data to students during meetings and career center programming, and in subsequent FDS campaigns.
FDS data collection needs to have a steady pace starting before graduation and extending to the survey deadline. The survey lead should find a balance of responsibilities and fit in FDS outreach, inquiry, and research when they are likely to get the best results, while adhering to the timeline for surveying and obtaining FDS data, which is within six months post-graduation.
“This means schools would complete data collection by December 31 of each year,” Galbraith says.
“Schools then submit their data to NACE beginning in January and continuing until the end of April each year. This gives schools time to analyze and clean their data before reporting their template to NACE.”
One school noted that its FDS runs for the final two weeks of the semester prior to a student’s graduation. The ensuing six-month follow-up process includes:
- Two months out—An email check-in survey;
- Three months out—Academic college data requests;
- Four months out—LinkedIn data scrape;
- Five months out—Individual phone calls; and
- Six months out—A final email check-in survey and individual phone calls.
During its six-month follow-up, staff use positive, encouraging language in their check-in emails and phone calls, and always remind alumni of the career services and resources still available to them. Adding in a second round of final check-in emails and phone calls has boosted the school’s knowledge rate and percentage of successful first-destination outcomes. At the end of each calendar year, the career center also submits a National Clearinghouse data request.
To assess their own success in obtaining FDS data, schools can evaluate their knowledge rates year to year to see how they are doing and if there is room for improvement.
FDS is a near-continuous process that is most valuable to schools that not only gather the data, but that then analyze, report, and act on them each year.