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Grad stats – it’s in the numbers

Statistics – they can rule our lives and often form the basis for critical decisions. For students, probably the most critical decision is selecting which institution and program to enroll in and it is often impacted by how that program measures up. The primary focus? Graduate employment numbers.

For many NAIT programs, those graduate employment numbers look very promising. On the NAIT website, you’ll see numbers like “92 per cent employment rate within nine months of graduating from full time programs.” Yet, in slow economic times, some are questioning those numbers.

NAIT’s graduate statistics are handled by the Department of Institutional Research – all graduate statistics are compiled from surveys sent out to new graduates by contracted survey companies.

“There is actually quite a time lag with the survey,” said Tony Olmsted, director of Institutional Research. Right now, we are surveying anyone who graduated from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.

“So, now, almost into November, we are surveying graduates from the 2015- 2016 academic year. Once we have that list (typically 3,600, not including apprenticeships, only certificate, diploma, degree programs), we can deploy the survey,” he said.

“We have the names of every graduate, and we ask everyone, we aren’t sampling. We have set a very high target for response rates (70 per cent overall), which is why we do go out to an external company.” This census-style approach creates a challenge for calculating graduate results when responses don’t meet that 70 per cent response target.

“The only time we specifically target a particular program is if the response rates are below the 70 per cent target. In that case, we will shift resources to try to get the response rate over 70 per cent, though it is not always possible. In some cases, we may get up to 100 per cent response, but in other cases, especially small programs, we may not reach 50 per cent,” said Olmsted.

“Since we are using everybody, we can’t say that the group that answered is reflective of the group that didn’t. That’s pretty standard survey methodology. If response rates are low, it is tempting to project the results to the rest of the program. But in many cases, the response rate is 100 per cent, so the same methodology will give you the actual experience of the program graduates.”

The calculation utilized for the employment statistic is relatively simple. Out of the responses received from the survey for each program, the percentage for employed graduates is calculated from the number of employed graduates divided by the total number of graduates employed or available for employment. Those who are enrolled in a post-secondary program or are otherwise not available for employment (such as being too sick to work) are removed from the calculation.

“If they’re sick or in another postsecondary program, for whatever reason they aren’t in the labour force, they aren’t included in the statistics … ” Olmsted said.

This all means that NAIT’s graduate statistics are the real deal – based on actual responses. There’s no polling math tricks to project outcomes but that doesn’t mean that the numbers reflect the outcome for every single graduate – only the majority.

“Statistics are very institution-specific. Some schools just rely on the provincial report for graduate outcomes. NAIT has decided that it is very important to keep track of how graduates are doing and to collect that data. Many institutions collect their own graduate outcome data but the only real comparative survey is the provincial graduate outcome survey,” Olmsted said.

“The NAIT survey and the Government of Alberta survey are actually quite similar [on certain metrics]. Based on those metrics, we are impressively above the Alberta post-secondary average. I would suggest that, based on a six-month out ‘are you employed’ question, NAIT does exceptionally well and I’d say that is based on how closely aligned we are to industry. So NAIT and polytechnics in general tend to do very well on employment outcomes.”

Detailed information about NAIT’s graduate statistics can be found online on the NAIT website. This year’s graduate survey for the 2015-2016 academic year was distributed on Oct. 21, 2016 – recent graduates are encouraged to participate.

– Nicolas Brown, Issues Editor

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