This week’s blog post focuses upon two areas: self-reported employment data from our 2012-2013 graduates and Fall, 2013 graduate enrollment trends.
As I mentioned at the end of last week’s post, 18% of respondents (n=278) to our 2012-2013 Graduate School exit survey reported that they were currently “unemployed”. Now, the meaning of “unemployed” can have various contexts for respondents beside the negative implication that one does not currently have a job. Three explanations that come to mind immediately are that some respondents may not have pursued their graduate degrees for employment reasons in the first place (i.e. lifelong learning or the less charitable characterization of “professional student”), the respondent may not have been employed at the time the survey was administered (June, 2013), or the respondent may be pursuing additional higher education and has not yet entered the workforce. There are likely other reasons that I am not considering, as well. Next year’s exit survey will include some clarifying questions to try to learn more about these responses. Regardless, this year’s baseline of 18% can be studied longitudinally in the future to draw conclusions.
I have drilled down within this data to see if any programs stand out in the analysis. Here is a bar chart of the percentage of self-reported “unemployed” 2012-2013 respondents by program (click on the image to enlarge). This is a percentage of total number of program graduates in this time period.
Some of these data may not be surprising, but others may be. Where do we go from here? First, we need to take a longer look at these data before jumping to conclusions. Second, if I were a faculty member in one of the programs, I would begin to seriously look at learner outcomes for these programs to be sure that they are meeting the needs of employers in our region. This is not an easy task and the alignment of external entities with programs and curriculum is challenging. Third, I would begin tracking these students who are not employed and follow up with them. The career services office will not do this for you. If you are a faculty member, program leader, or department chair, this is data on which you cannot afford to be ignorant. The correlation between employment and higher education attainment (especially graduate level attainment) is historically a positive one. However, gone are the days when society will be tolerant of unemployed master’s and education specialist graduates for long. The investment is too large…especially when that investment is borne by taxpayers in the form of financial aid by our graduate students.
Now, for the flip side of this coin – enrollment growth. This week the FHSU Graduate School hit a milestone with it’s 2000th enrolled student. Contrast this to where we were a decade ago, as the Chronicle of Higher Education did this past week in ranking FHSU as the 2nd fastest growing university in the USA, and you can see where things are headed. This year, our Graduate School growth rate has been 8.8%, which exceeds our five-year rolling mean growth rate of 5.44% by a healthy margin. Most of the enrollment growth is occurring in our Virtual College programs and the Graduate School accounts for 33% of new Virtual College enrollments this fall. Here is an analysis I have done of the fastest growing programs in our Graduate School over the past five years by looking at the standard deviation of enrollment data (click on the image to enlarge):
The premise of using standard deviation is that a higher standard deviation value can be an indicator of volatility – either an enrollment growth or decline indicator. Examining these enrollment data longitudinally gives a picture of whether there is program growth or decline reflected by the standard deviation. It is also an indicator of stability…programs which have maintained their size over time despite recent changes in demographics, programmatic decisions, and higher education in general. Relative stability is a virtuous characteristic in itself for a program to have; sometimes we lose sight of that in these days where there is a lot of budgetary pressure predicated upon growth. As you can see, our on campus graduate programming remains relatively stable with low standard deviation values over the years. Our programs that are growing the fastest are our Virtual College programs. We have 12 available in the Graduate School and the ten programs with the highest standard deviation values are Virtual College programs. Where does the future lie? Data like these help programs look to the future. I hope you will discuss this in your department meetings this fall as we look toward 2014. My caution, however, is to not lose sight of the data presented in the first part of this blog posting – we need to improve program learner outcomes and meet employment needs of the region we serve in order to be a successful university. Fast growth which results in high unemployment rates is not a desirable outcome for our Graduate School. Thanks for reading and your continued support of graduate education at FHSU. Next week, I’ll highlight some of our recent research accomplishments from the Office of Scholarship and Sponsored Projects FY13 annual report.