Archive: student outcomes

Blog: Backtracking Alumni: Using Institutional Research and Reflective Inquiry to Improve Organizational Learning

Posted on April 2, 2020 by , in Blog
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Faye R. Jones Marcia A. Mardis
Senior Research Associate
Florida State
Associate Professor and Assistant Dean
Florida State

In a recent blog post, we shared practical tips for developing an alumni tracking program to assess students’ employment outcomes. Alumni tracking is an effective tool for assessing the quality of educational programs and helping determine whether programs have the intended impact 

In this post, we share the Backtracking technique, aadvanced approach that supplements alumni tracking data with students’ institutionally archived recordsBacktracking assumes that institutions and programs already gather student outcomes information (e.g., employment, salary, and advanced educational data) from alumni on a periodic basis (e.g., annually or every three years) 

The technique uses institutional research (IR) archives to match students’ employment outcomes to academic and demographic variables (e.g., academic GPA, courses taken, grades, major, additional certifications, internships, gender, race/ethnicity)By pairing student outcomes data with academic and demographic variables, we can contextualize student pathways and explore the whole pathway, not just a moment in time. 

Figure 1 shows an example of the Backtracking technique for two-year Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS).  

Figure 1. Backtracking Technique for AA/AS Programs 

Figure 1 illustrates three data collection layersLayer 1, Institutional Research College Data, provides student completion data, academic history, and contact informationAdvanced and transfer-degree data are also available through the National Student Clearinghouse, which can reveal the major that former student (or graduate) entered after completing the AA/AS degreeLayer 2, Alumni Transfer Employment Data, includes student employment and advanceddegree information self-reported in alumni surveys 

Layer 3, Pathway Explanatory Dataembeds a qualitative component within the Backtracking technique in order to let alumni explain their undergraduate experiences. This layer helps us understand what happened during and after collegeMost importantly, it lets us identify the critical junctures that students faced and the facilitators and hindrances that allowed students to overcome (or that caused) setbacks during these difficult periods 

To provide alumni with the best opportunities to share their experiences, we use IR archives to formulate questions based on key facts about students’ experiencesFor example, if IR records show that a student transferred from college A to university B, we may ask the student about that specific experience. For a student who failed Calculus 1 once but passed it on the second try, we may ask what allowed that success. 

Although individual student pathways are useful, we can also stratify these data by race and gender (or other factors) and then aggregate them to better understand student groupsWe demonstrate how we aggregate the pathways in this short video. 

The Backtracking technique requires skilled personnel with technical knowledge in IR and data collection and analysis or an Academic IR (who possesses both IR and research skills)Investing in such skill and knowledge is worthwhile  

    • Institutional research is powerful when used for formative and internal improvement and for generation of new knowledge 
    • Findings about former students using the Backtracking technique can provide useful information to improve program and institutional services (e.g., advising, formal practices, informal learning opportunities, etc.) 
    • Looking back at what worked or failed for past students can inform current practices and serve as a source of institutional learning 

References: 

Jones, F. R., Mardis, M. A. (2019, May 15)Alumni Tracking: The ultimate source for evaluating completer outcomes [Blog post]Retrieved from https://www.evalu-ate.org/blog/jones2-may19/

Blog: Alumni Tracking: The Ultimate Source for Evaluating Completer Outcomes

Posted on May 15, 2019 by , in Blog ()
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

 

Faye R. Jones Marcia A. Mardis
Senior Research Associate
Florida State
Associate Professor and Assistant Dean
Florida State

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/

References:

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