Workforce Results Matter to Students

By Neil Ridley

new brief from CLASP examines the hard questions that students and policymakers are asking about postsecondary education and training outcomes at a time of sustained unemployment and sluggish job growth. Do graduates find jobs? What are they paid? What will they earn in the future? Despite growing national interest in this information, good answers are not widely available for many programs.

Research shows that consumers of postsecondary education and training are keenly interested in workforce results, such as post-graduation employment and earnings levels. In the annual Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) survey at four-year institutions, first-year students consistently report that their prospects for employment and improved earnings are very important to them as they enter college. In fact, in the 2013 survey, three of the top five reasons students cited for going to college were related to anticipated employment and earnings results, including “to be able to get a better job” (86 percent), “to get training for a specific career” (77 percent), and “to be able to make more money” (73 percent).

Research conducted by Young Invincibles further underscores the demand for information about workforce results. A survey of high-debt student loan borrowers found that 81 percent of students and recent graduates felt that a school’s job placement rate was “important” or “very important” in deciding where to attend. At a series of roundtables on federal higher education financial aid issues, Young Invincibles asked students: “What does a successful college experience look like?” The top responses included “getting a job in one’s field” (74 percent), “pay back loans” (58 percent), “pursuing a higher degree” (58 percent), “any job regardless of field” (49 percent), and “income post-graduation” (46 percent).

Students view postsecondary education and training as a way to boost their prospects for stable employment and greater earnings. Rising college costs and increased student debt, combined with a weak economy, make college a riskier investment than in the past. Students and families can reduce that risk by gauging the quality of institutions and programs and choosing carefully among fields of study. Armed with better information about post-graduation outcomes including workforce results, low-income and first-generation students and their families are more likely to consider the full range of programs and institutions that can help them succeed.

For more information, read the new brief.