With a goal to better understand graduates’ immediate plans, Washington State University has emailed a questionnaire to 5,748 seniors asking about what they will do following graduation.
“It’s important to understand that this is the first time we have conducted a university-wide survey to gather this type of statistical data,” said Mary F. Wack, vice provost for academic engagement and student achievement.
“Are they stepping into a job? Entering graduate or professional school? Job searching? Joining the military, or a volunteer or service program? Taking time off? Staying in the U.S. or going abroad? The new ‘Undergraduate Placement Survey’ will give the university its first comprehensive picture across the institution.”
The idea to gather students’ information has been building. Metrics were written into the university’s Drive to 25 initiative that call for determining the placement rate of graduates. Also, the 2020-25 WSU Strategic Plan emphasizes that WSU students receive an education that equips them to be contributors and leaders in their communities and that prepares graduates who are ready to make a difference in the world.
Some preliminary work was done in recent years by a Drive to 25 committee led by Dave Cillay, now vice president for Academic Outreach and Innovation and chancellor of the Global Campus. That group started with a goal to define, understand, and, if needed, improve the placement rate of graduates.
The new survey was constructed in 2020-21 by Institutional Research (IR) in partnership with the Academic Success and Career Center (ASCC), part of the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement (DAESA). Because the survey is a university-wide initiative coordinated centrally, college, campus, and area partners joined the initiative.
A shared effort
On board from the beginning have been the Carson College of Business, the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, the Honors College, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Murrow College of Communication, and Athletics.
One of the main reasons to centralize the survey, said King, was to draw in colleges and campuses that were using different survey platforms and questions—or not surveying students at all.
“Centrally administering the survey allows us to collect data for accreditation and more easily benchmark against peer institutions,” said Terese King, ASCC executive director. “Working through IR also allows us to improve data integrity and streamline reporting.”
King said the “first-destination survey” was sent in mid-March by President Kirk Schulz, asking six basic questions plus subquestions.
“More than 1,100 students have completed the questionnaire and we are very pleased with the response rate,” said King. “But the importance of the survey demands that we keep it open so we can continue to gather the information we need as one way to measure student success.” ASCC will handle questions about survey content and also non-technical questions.
The goal is to get the best response rate and “an even better knowledge rate for WSU,” said King. Knowledge rate is the percent of graduates for which WSU has reasonable and verifiable information regarding students’ postgraduation plans.
To help achieve that, she said, “each college, campus, or area has designated a point person for the survey initiative who will help by collecting information students share regarding their plans with faculty, staff, advisors, peer ambassadors, and more—they may even plan graduation related activities to solicit information. Point persons in each area are able to enter students’ plans using a shared data file on the back end.
In addition, some staff within the colleges comb external resources such as LinkedIn and social media platforms to increase our knowledge rate, said King.
“The entire initiative relies on system-wide coordination.”
IR is a key partner. Fran Hermanson, IR executive director, said that unit provides the technical support to send the surveys and to help students complete and submit it. It will also respond to students or staff experiencing technical issues with the survey.
Then, when responses flow in, IR will “scrub and clean the data” and help set up dashboards to display the data for the university community.
Value to WSU
What will the university do with feedback from thousands of new graduates?
Hermanson said the results will provide current and valuable data to share with the administration, faculty and staff, external constituents, and accrediting bodies. “We can show alumni, advisory boards, and employers where our students are finding jobs or entering service fields or graduate programs.”
King said survey results will also inform ASCC and other units which graduating seniors would like assistance with their job search or other post-graduation plans.
Wack said the results from the survey will also help WSU to better compare itself against other institutions. They will also guide the university in its endeavors to provide the best undergraduate experience possible.
While the current Undergraduate Placement Survey is the initial project, the plan is to continue polling seniors and new graduates in coming semesters.
“This is the start of an ongoing, long-term plan to collect current and critical information about and from our students,” King said. “It’s important and the results are relevant for so many reasons.”