Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
In May of 2016, Wayne Thibodeau interviewed Oakland University’s then-President George Hynd on video to include in a presentation Thibodeau would deliver later that summer at the Michigan Career Educator and Employer Alliance State Conference.
The intent was to capture the president’s thoughts on the value of the university’s first-destination survey report and how it is used with key stakeholders. However, the video made such a strong impression that it became a powerful tool used by Thibodeau and Hynd to tell the story of Oakland University’s impact on its students.
“Since our president asked for several copies for key stakeholders throughout the academic year, I thought this would be a great way to show the value of the work we do and the impact related to our first-destination survey report,” says Thibodeau, senior director, career services at Oakland University in Michigan.
“My thought was that there was no better way to show the impact than through the voice and words of our president. I felt this interview added enormous value to my presentation as it is rare that career services receives that much attention and support from a university president, so I wanted to capitalize on the moment.”
The interview video is 2 minutes and 15 seconds in length. It was edited to only include President Hynd’s responses to five questions, but did not include the questions themselves.
“The video tells of the impact we are making in the region on talent and work force development,” Thibodeau says. “By capturing data within the first-destination survey report, it allows us to tell the story of where graduates are employed, average salaries in the region based on industry, the fact that 97 percent of students indicating they are employed stay in Michigan, career outcomes rates, and top employers hiring Oakland University students in the region.”
In addition to the video, Thibodeau and his career services staff detail Oakland University’s first-destination survey results in an annual report in hard-copy format that is shared with the president’s office, deans, members of the board of trustees, and executive leaders in the campus community at large.
They have also given others access to the first-destination data. This year, the assistant director of assessment created the university’s “First-Destination Online Dashboard” with the data, allowing deans and key partners to filter fields in a customized way. Thibodeau and his assistant director conducted demonstrations of the dashboard to key constituent groups across campus, highlighting the “just-in-time” features for reporting purposes.
“One of our strategies is to outsource storytelling by encouraging our partners in communications and marketing, institutional research, and each school and college to comb through the data that is relevant to them and find something that is worth telling,” Thibodeau explains. “The new online dashboard has allowed our team to produce customizable infographics for ‘academic visit days’ targeted to prospective students and their parents. This can also help our admissions office with recruiting.”
He points out that the biggest challenge associated with reporting first-destination data is explaining the significance of and methodology used to create complex metrics.
“We publish more than 50 metrics in our first-destination survey report,” Thibodeau notes. “It’s comprehensive, but it can also be difficult to understand. We often have to reference our methodology to be reminded of how a given metric was calculated. Another challenge is establishing our results as trustworthy and authoritative, especially when those results are not the most desirable.”
Thibodeau offers several tips that may help boost your efforts with collecting first-destination data and using them to tell your story:
- Make sure to remove students who have taken the survey who either belong to a separate graduating cohort or did not graduate at all. Care should be taken to either avoid surveying these students or define methodology for removing them from the final sample.
- When reporting average wages, account for the overall distribution (e.g., median, mode, and standard deviation). Just a handful of high-earning graduates is enough to greatly exaggerate how much your students are earning when reporting an average alone.
- Getting total buy-in from key leaders and constituents can be challenging. It is important to highlight the fact that you use NACE Standards and Protocols for Collecting Graduate Outcomes that is used nationally.
- Leverage the NACE Standards as a foundation, then build customization and institutional needs on top of that. Also, put resources (e.g., time, money, and talent) into data science tools and programming languages, such as SAS, R, or Python. This will allow you to build well-defined processes for cleaning and reporting, which will increase reliability and transparency, and allow you to publish results faster.
- Use infographics along with graphics to help tell the story about the first-destination report, along with the outcomes of the work we do to impact engagement for students and employers.
“Also, if your career center doesn’t already have one, create an assessment/analytics position responsible for all data collection and reporting,” Thibodeau adds. “Add resources within your team to help ‘tell the story’ and good news about the work we do in our industry.”