Most campuses use a survey to collect data from their graduating students about their plans after graduation. This can include things like what job they've taken, whether they are going to graduate school, how much money they are making, and even what resources were most helpful to preparing them for life after college.
Here are some best practices for administering these types of surveys:
Ask the right questions:
- It is good to first ask if they have a solid plan for after graduation. If yes, provide an exhaustive broad list of options (e.g., full-time employment, part-time employment, grad school, military, volunteering, remaining unemployed (e.g., family, health), and ask pointed questions based on their response. If they don’t know what they are doing, ask what steps they are taking to determine their path (e.g., applying to grad school, job searching).
- Always think about how you want the data to show up in your results when determining how you will ask the question. If you have reporting requirements, look first at how it has to be reported, and communicate that to us so we setup the question accordingly. A good example of this is salary data. Basically you have two options: a numeric open-ended response (which allows you to calculate means), or salary ranges (where you can determine what percentage of students fall in each range).
- You may wish to add in some supplemental questions about other aspects of their student experience if you do not currently do a senior exit survey (on overall campus experience). Weigh the pros and cons of including questions not directly related to post-graduate plans. Pros: Getting students to take just one survey on their way out is simpler and may result in a higher response rate; also you can filter and drill down into the data to identify connections between post-graduate plans and other responses (e.g., satisfaction, engagement, use of services). Cons: Length will be an issue, possibly leading to lower completion rate; also since other departments will be involved, the time to develop the instrument will be longer and require more political hoops to jump through.
Collect identifying information:
- Make sure you collect identifying information (like email address or ID number) for students so you know exactly who they are. You can use the Mass Mailing system in Baseline (remember to use their official campus email if possible) or better yet, a validation screen that requires the student to enter their student ID to begin. Since emails may change as students graduate, the ID will be a constant that you can rely on later.
- Like George Mason and Hofstra, consider eliminating routine demographic questions (e.g., major, gender, hometown) by instead providing Baseline with a full student data file containing all the demographic information you would want to be included in the results. As long as you collect the same identifier during administration as is included in that demographics file, we can upload and connect the demographics to the survey results as if you had asked the questions in the survey. Benefits: shorter survey, higher completion rate, accurate demographic data.
Follow up if they don’t have firm plans:
- Follow up in a few months (like Hofstra and Case Western) with students who do not have concrete plans by sending a new survey instrument that contains just the few questions they were not able to answer at time of initial administration. Make sure you ask for post-graduate email address in the initial survey if you are going to do this.
- U of Miami sends one of three different follow-up surveys tailored to the specific situation of the student. One for undecided/no plans, one for graduate school, and one for employment.
Employ strategies to maximize your response rate: Response rates can range anywhere from 15% to over 85%, depending on what strategies you use.
- Start with typical survey response rate strategies, like including an explanation of why you are collecting this information and how that impacts the student and the institution (“We need to report salary data in order to improve our ranking, which in turn makes your degree more valuable as an alum.”) Refer to the Survey Response Rate Strategies article here.
- Almost all campuses offer some kind of incentive, for which we can set up a separate drawing entry form and pick the random winners for you.
- If you are going to send the survey via email, use the Baseline Mass Mailing system, and don’t be stingy with the reminders. Northwestern sent 6 reminders over 4 weeks and had an 88% response rate.
- Some campuses (like Northeastern University) have students fill out the survey as part of their online graduation request form. (If you decide to integrate the questions into a web form hosted by your campus instead of administering through Baseline, you can export the raw data and have us upload it to Baseline for reporting.)
- Hofstra and U of Miami require students to complete the survey at computer stations when they pick up their cap and gown.
- If low response rates are still an issue, you can do personal phone follow up calls from Career Counselors to those students for whom you do not have responses, like Case Western does. Counselors can enter the students’ responses into the web survey. To do this, we would add a validation screen which requires the counselor to enter the ID.
Set up longitudinal comparisons:
- Ask us to set up your survey as a comparison report, which will allow you to compare responses from one administration to the next to note trends. This means you will want to administer the same exact survey as a separate project in Baseline for each of the graduation dates.