When examining student programs, evaluators can use many student outcomes (e.g., enrollments, completions, and completion rates) as appropriate measures of success. However, to properly assess whether programs and interventions are having their intended impact, evaluators should consider performance metrics that capture data on individuals after they have completed degree programs or certifications, also known as “completer” outcomes.
For example, if a program’s goal is to increase the number of graduating STEM majors, then whether students can get STEM jobs after completing the program is very important to know. Similarly, if the purpose of offering high school students professional CTE certifications is to help them get jobs after graduation, it’s important to know if this indeed happened. Completer outcomes allow evaluators to assess whether interventions are having their intended effect, such as increasing the number of minorities entering academia or attracting more women to STEM professions. Programs aren’t just effective when participants have successfully entered and completed them; they are effective when graduates have a broad impact on society.
Tracking of completer outcomes is typical, as many college and university leaders are held accountable for student performance while students are enrolled and after students graduate. Educational policymakers are asking leaders to look beyond completion to outcomes that represent actual success and impact. As a result, alumni tracking has become an important tool in determining the success of interventions and programs. Unfortunately, while the solution sounds simple, the implementation is not.
Tracking alumni (i.e., defined as past program completers) can be an enormous undertaking, and many institutions do not have a dedicated person to do the job. Alumni also move, switch jobs, and change their names. Some experience survey fatigue after several survey requests. The following are practical tips from an article we co-authored explaining how we tracked alumni data for a five-year project that aimed to recruit, retain, and employ computing and technology majors (Jones, Mardis, McClure, & Randeree, 2017):
- Recommend to principal investigators (PIs) that they extend outcome evaluations to include completer outcomes in an effort to capture graduation and alumni data, and downstream program impact.
- Baseline alumni tracking details should be obtained prior to student completion, but not captured again until six months to one year after graduation, to provide ample transition time for the graduate.
- Programs with a systematic plan for capturing outcomes are likely to have higher alumni response rates.
- Surveys are a great tool for obtaining alumni tracking information, while Social media (e.g., LinkedIn) can be used to stay in contact with students for survey and interview requests. Suggest that PIs implement a social media strategy while students are participating in the program, so that the contact need only be continued after completion.
- Data points might include student employment status, advanced educational opportunities (e.g., graduate school enrollment), position title, geographic location, and salary. For richer data, we recommend adding a qualitative component to the survey (or selecting a sample of alumni to participate in interviews).
The article also includes a sample questionnaire in the reference section.
A comprehensive review of completer outcomes requires that evaluators examine both the alumni tracking procedures and analysis of the resulting data.
Once evaluators have helped PIs implement a sound alumni tracking strategy, institutions should advance to alumni backtracking! We will provide more information on that topic in a future post.
* This work was partially funded by NSF ATE 1304382. For more details, go to https://technicianpathways.cci.fsu.edu/
Jones, F. R., Mardis, M. A., McClure, C. M., & Randeree, E. (2017). Alumni tracking: Promising practices for collecting, analyzing, and reporting employment data. Journal of Higher Education Management 32(1), 167–185. https://mardis.cci.fsu.edu/01.RefereedJournalArticles/1.9jonesmardisetal.pdf
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