New tool gauges post-graduate success

A new state database shows what University alumni are doing after graduating.

by Anne Millerbernd

Some of the highest-paid University of Minnesota graduates are those who earned a degree in health, engineering and business programs.

Recent graduates in those programs have earned a post-graduate median wage of more than $60,000, according to a new tool set up by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development last month.

The database gives a comprehensive and new picture of what University alumni do after graduating, if they choose to stay in the state. It shows information on job placement, hourly wage and annual salary from graduates out of both public and private institutions across the state.

The Graduate Employment Outcomes tool uses data from the department’s quarterly census of employment and wages combined with data collected from employers in Minnesota covered by the state’s unemployment insurance, said Alessia Leibert, the tool’s project manager.

Users can search data for 2010–2011 graduates. There are functions to sort by location within the state and pull information from several types of public, private and professional higher education institutions in Minnesota.

But the system does have its limitations. Because some institutions don’t report data to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education — the place where the tool gathers graduation information — some graduates aren’t accounted for.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development also uses social security numbers to track people as they graduate and start working, so international students who are in Minnesota without a social security number aren’t included in the data.

Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, said the tool, while valuable, should be used with caution.

Because students who go on to graduate and professional programs, pursue work outside of Minnesota or enter the military aren’t included, he said, the limited information could pose problems.

“You’re not going to have absolutely complete data; you’re going to have partial data,” McMaster said. “One needs to remember that.”

The data shows that in many cases, less than 50 percent of University graduates work in full-time, year-round positions in Minnesota two years after graduating.

Setting ‘realistic expectations’

Some degrees do better than others in Minnesota.

With a 4.6 percent unemployment rate as of last month, Minnesota’s job market is doing better than the national average, which sat at around 6.3 percent in April, said Oriane Casale, the assistant director of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s labor market information office.

She said those who graduate with technical and scientific degrees often gain real-world work experiences before graduating from college, so students in those programs see better employment rates.

Angie Froistad, the College of Science and Engineering’s employee relations coordinator, said the college conducts its own survey to find out where students go after graduation. The survey typically finds that more than 90 percent of its graduates find jobs or continue their education after earning their undergraduate degree, she said.

Leibert said one of the goals of the state database is to help students set “realistic expectations” in terms of their post-graduation future — which McMaster said University students are increasingly beginning to do as they approach graduation.

Matt Philips said even before receiving his undergraduate accounting degree from the University last spring, he already had a job lined up in his chosen field.

Phillips, who now works at a large public accounting firm in Minnesota, said he was never worried about the job market, but knowing that the field had a lot of opportunities held weight in his decision to major in accounting.

“I definitely went into college knowing that I was going to pick something that had a strong job market,” Philips said.

Paul Timmins, career services director for the College of Liberal Arts, said the publicly available data is a good resource for students, but they should use information beyond the tool and consider other factors, like their personal interests, when choosing a major.

“It’s always dangerous to assume your salary’s going to be exactly what the median hourly wage is,” he said. “That being said, data like this can help anyone make a more informed decision … especially if you’re using it in concert with other pieces of information.”

McMaster said within the next year, University advisers and career counselors could begin using the tool to learn how they can better prepare their students for life after college. But because the data is so new, he said, it’s too early to be sure.