Collecting Employment and Wage Data

Ask eAIR invites questions from AIR members about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. Questions may be submitted to

This month’s question is answered by Laura Jensen, Associate Provost for Planning and Effectiveness, Colorado State University. Special thanks from the author to Jeremy Podany, Career Center Executive Director at Colorado State University, for sharing a vision of true institutional collaboration and shared responsibility.

The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Members are invited to join the discussion by commenting at the end of the article.

Dear Laura: What advice do you have for collecting employment data on graduates?

Earning a postsecondary degree is assumed by most to ideally provide both a personal benefit and a public good. With the costs associated with higher education, institutions are increasingly being held responsible for providing evidence to affirm this assumption. There are many outcomes that might be considered evidence (increased civic engagement, increased cultural awareness, increased ability to collaborate to solve societal issues, decreased need for public assistance, lower rates of poverty, etc.) but the two that arguably receive the most intense scrutiny are graduates’ employment rates and wages. For that reason, it is critical that institutions understand how to collect and effectively report these data.

Laura Jensen.jpgData Collection

The First-Destination Survey (FDS) is the traditional method for obtaining information about students’ self-reported secured plans after graduation including employment and salary. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) First-Destination Survey Standards and Protocols provides insights into efficient survey administration and, if followed, allows for institutional comparison to national standards. Collaboration on campus among the career center, the registrar’s office, and the office of IR can serve to shorten the survey, streamline the process, and increase the response rate.  

In addition to a well-designed and efficiently administered FDS, NACE has endorsed additional data collection methods as best practices to increase our overall knowledge rate about graduates’ first-destination outcomes. NACE has a knowledge rate goal of 65%, but by employing multiple data sources, Colorado State University (CSU) attained a knowledge rate of about 80%. Beyond increasing our knowledge rate, triangulating data from multiple sources serves to increase our confidence in the results. At CSU, we have utilized the following data sources.

  • National Student Clearinghouse (NSC): The NSC StudentTracker includes about 98% of all postsecondary enrollment within the United States and allows us to identify graduates who enrolled in further education. This not only increases our knowledge rate and triangulates the self-reported data from the FDS, it also allows us to exclude those students from the denominator of our employment rate. Graduates continuing their education are typically underemployed if employed at all and do not, therefore, provide an accurate portrayal of employment and wage outcomes. However, they should still be counted as successful graduates for reporting purposes.

  • Unemployment Insurance (UI): The Department of Labor and Employment can match recent graduates to its unemployment insurance wage records through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) negotiated by the IHE (or other entity on behalf of the IHE). However, there are limitations to this approach. The largest limitation is that it only provides data for graduates employed in-state. Additionally, employees in certain sectors are not captured in the data set.

  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn reports there are 39 million students or recent graduates on LinkedIn. As yet, a comprehensive interstate employment database is not available to IHEs to track graduation outcomes. LinkedIn can provide those data for recent graduates employed out of state that can be otherwise difficult to obtain.

  • Credit Applications: There are a variety of private databases available for purchase that provide the wage data verified on credit applications. However, there are limitations to this approach for new graduates: 1) many have not yet applied for credit in the first months following graduation, 2) the data are not always provided back to the IHE at the unit record level which eliminates the possibility of in-depth analysis, and 3) the data can be expensive to obtain.

Reporting and Messaging

Effective reporting and messaging of graduation outcomes should be anchored in the following foundational tenets.

  • Graduate outcomes are not the sole responsibility of the career center. Ensuring the success of our graduates is an institutional responsibility shared across every division on campus in both academic and student affairs as well as operations. Messaging should acknowledge and celebrate that.

  • Consistency is critical. Messaging should leave audiences with the same take-away points regardless of who delivers it (Career Center, Institutional Research, Admissions, Alumni Relations etc.) or in which format it is delivered.

  • Reporting should be specific for the audience and purpose, as outlined by the Bers and Seybert 1999 monograph, Effective Reporting. What Alumni Relations and the Council of Deans will need will be different and those needs should be well understood as messaging is developed.

  • The data should support a story. Messaging is an opportunity to describe the transformative nature of education by sharing an impactful story about how students move through life’s journey immediately following graduation. This should include employment and wage data but should also include direct quotes from students, employers, and alumni.

Gone are the days of conducting a first-destination survey, writing a report, and being satisfied with such a simplistic approach to understanding graduation outcomes. A cross-campus collaborative multifaceted approach represents a best practice that is undoubtedly here to stay, even as specific methodologies continue to advance.




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Total Comments: 2
Betty posted on 5/11/2017 2:46 PM
I am surprised not to see any limitation noted for LinkedIn data, as there is for some of the other sources. I am not aware of any validation that occurs on the LinkedIn data and there seems to me to be a significant motivation for users to exaggerate or even to lie outright on their profiles. Perhaps LinkedIn has upped its game in this regard and I am unaware of it.
Cliff posted on 5/11/2017 5:03 PM
For employment type, continuity, and contiguity (related to what you studied) not merely immediately after graduation but 4 and 10 years later, we have the Baccalaureate and Beyond survey, and the Europeans have the frame for a Eurograduate Survey (1, 5 and 9 years later). These, of course, are weighted samples, and nobody seems satisfied with weighted samples, which are expensive enough in their own right. They are also confined to bacehlor's degree recipients, as if no one cares about those with sub-baccalaureate credentials. As for the other outcomes of higher education the question cited, e.g. increased cultural awareness, who do you think is going to ask questions about music, theater, books read, artistic activities, etc.? Linked-In? You gotta' be kidding!