Learner and Graduate Outcomes – What Your Education Gets You Now

What do current learner and graduate outcomes look like? From a societal perspective, what are we getting for our education spending? And are these acceptable given the needs of the new global economy? In this information-rich Credentialate Guide, we will look at what data we have from countries that collect and publish graduate outcome data – including Australia, the UK, the EU, and the United States – and explore how learner and graduate outcomes align with learner expectations and future workforce needs.

The Essentials: Learner and graduate outcomes

  • How many learners are there in 2021? How many learners will there be in 2050?
    According to the latest research from HolonIQ, there were 5.3 Billion learners in 1990, 7.8 Billion in 2020 and there is expected to be 9.4 Billion by 2050.
  • How many graduates have full-time employment?
    Analysing graduate outcomes data across Australia, Europe (EU and non-EU) and the United States shows that a mean of around 64% of graduates are employed full-time.
  • What do graduates earn? What’s the average graduate salary?
    Even taking into account factors such as currency exchanges, the mean graduate salary across Australia, Europe (EU and non-EU) and the United States is remarkably consistent across all demographics, and sits at AUD$64,777. 
  • Do graduates go on to further education? How many graduates continue studying?
    Approximately 18% of graduates across Australia, Europe (EU and non-EU) and the United States are engaging in further education. Of adult learners, the OECD reveals a mean of around 16% who have already participated in job-related training want more. Overall, just under 1 in 5 undergraduates are pursuing some kind of further education.
  • If graduates are not employed, why aren’t they?
    The reasons graduates don’t get a job straight away seem to be the same regardless of location. They are, in order – Further study; Travel or caring duties; Unemployed but about to start study or work soon; and the Generically unemployed. 
  • Are learners and graduates satisfied with their education?
    Regardless of location, the results on this one are nearly identical – 80% of learners say they ‘generally agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that they are satisfied with their learning outcomes and general skills. 20% however, ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ that they are utilising what they learned during their studies in their current role, and only 65% were satisfied with the teaching scale.
  • How can educators develop better graduate outcomes in the future?
    Ideally, graduate outcomes data needs to be made available as soon as possible, be released in a translatable language, using universally agreed upon terms and align to a decentralised, universal (or translatable) framework. In a perfect world, private trade, vocational and non-degree provider graduate outcomes data would be included, and outcomes data overall expanded.  
  • What are the current education trends impacting learners?
    The most significant trend, and the one most likely to grow in strength, is the private industry co-creation boom. Education and industry are partnering in larger numbers than ever before, working to deliver the job specific skills the employers need. 
  • How Credentialate provides a new perspective
    Credentialate is the world’s first Credential Evidence Platform. It helps you discover and share evidence of workplace skills. Credentialate is the only Credential Evidence Platform that includes personalised qualitative, quantitative and artefact evidence record verified directly from within the digital badge. For institutions, educators can map and manage their skills infrastructure and track skills attainment across the institution and against existing frameworks.

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The Full Story: Learner and graduate outcomes – what your education gets you now and in the future

Recently, Liz Ryan, founder, and CEO of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap: Righteous Recruiting; Red Blooded HR conducted a poll on Linkedin. The post was simple: “The world is changing fast. Is a four-year college degree (at current tuition rates) still a good financial investment?”

There were nearly 24,000 responses, and 59% of them said “No.” If nothing else, this tells us that confidence in the value of four-year degrees is low. Note that in this poll, with primarily US respondents, the caveat was at current tuition rates. In the comments, nearly 600 of them, respondents talked about ways to reduce tuition, the value of trade, vocational education and more.

As we turn our Lens on Learners, we need to look at some very important things: the first of which is, “What are graduates getting from those four-year degrees?” The answer must be from a data perspective, and answer some basic questions:

  • LinkedIn Poll Results - Did you end up working in the same field and using the skills you learnt in your study? Are learners employed in their chosen field of study?
  • Is that employment full-time and well-compensated?
  • If they are not employed full-time or are employed in a field apart from their chosen area of study, why? What is the reason they have either chosen or been forced to take a different path?
  • Are they seeking further study? Will that further study be in formal or informal education?

In this guide, we will look at what data we have available from various different countries with graduate outcome data, including Australia, the UK, the EU, and the United States. It is important to understand that while similar, these education systems do differ, and outcomes are different in countries where a college or university education is not readily available or a viable option.

Also, all of this publicly available data is from more traditional education frameworks of universities and colleges. It does not include the data from trade, vocational schools or other programs – otherwise it would be a much longer piece…

The questions we are trying to address with this data are easy to state yet quite complex to solve:

  • What do current outcomes look like? Are these acceptable numbers with a reasonable ROI? (What are we getting for our education spending from a societal perspective)
  • What are potential future outcomes? (with the caveat that it’s always hard to predict outcomes, especially when it comes to the future)

With that, let’s take a deep dive into some data.

The growing number of learners

Before we go further, it’s important to understand the scale of the growing number of learners. This growth is not only driven by younger people entering school, but by workers who are displaced or underemployed re-entering the education system. In fact, according to HolonIQ, there will be 2 billion more learners in the marketplace by 2050.

2 billion more learners in the marketplace by 2050

Can the current system handle this growth, and where will those learners get their skills? The answer, which we will discuss in detail later in this series, is not unless things change. And educators realise this. According to HolonIQ, a majority of educators expect disruption in their education area in the next 24 months, and over half feel the current conditions for global education are either moderately or substantially worse than they were six months ago.

In the meantime, graduates are still completing degree programs, and making decisions about what’s next. Are they graduating with the skills they need to be employable and are they getting jobs?

Graduates who are employed full-time

The first question we will answer is: Are graduates employed full time? What this really means is debatable, and we will discuss that further later on. The reason is the difference between being employable and employed: a graduate could be employable with all the skills they need, but could choose to not be employed for any number of reasons: a gap year, travel, caring for an ill loved one, or others.

Edalex Whitepaper - Rethinking Employability Beyond 2020 First, the Australian Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) for 2020 shows the following results:

  • Undergraduate employment across all demographics: 68.7%, down from 72.2% in 2019
  • Pharmacy is the only study area that is up from 2019, up to 96.4% from 95.7%
  • Surprisingly, the drops in nursing and medicine mirror in percentage the overall dips across all demographics
  • The largest drops by study area were in the humanities, down to 60.9% from 64.3%, and creative arts, down to 45.8% from 52.9% in 2019

In Europe, we have less recent data assembled by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). This year’s numbers have yet to be released, but in the most recent graduate activities survey, we note the following:

  • In the UK, 60% of graduates are employed full time, compared to 59% in non-UK, including EU and Non-EU members
  • Also in the UK, 10% are employed part-time, 11% in the non-UK, making both totals 70% of students who are employed in some way

In the United States, according to the most comprehensive data assembled by the National Association for Colleges and Employers, we find the following data for 2019.

What Level of Graduates are Employed Full-Time? First, at the Bachelor’s Level, the results show:

  • 65% of graduates are employed overall
  • 55% are employed in “standard full-time positions”
  • 86% have what the association defines as a “career positive outcome.” These graduates are either employed full or part-time, or are seeking further education in their chosen field of study (More on this statistic in a moment)

When we look at the Master’s level, the results do change significantly:

  • 79% are employed overall
  • 69% are employed full-time
  • 89% have a career positive outcome, as defined above

Even in this first section, we see an issue with the data: we are not always comparing apples to apples when it comes to global data, and for some areas, the data is challenging to find and interpret, but what we can say from what we see here:

  • A mean of around 64% percent of graduates are employed full-time
  • When we begin to look at categories of employment, technology, medical, and even education graduates are employed at higher rates
  • Those in the humanities and social science fields are employed less often, and earn a lower salary (we will talk about that next)

So where available, let’s look at what graduates who are employed are earning. This opens the door to the discussion: “Was your education worth it?”

What do graduates earn?

This broader question is somewhat tainted: cost of living and therefore wages differ greatly from one location to another, even within a given country. Another factor to consider is currency exchanges – each country reports in their own currency. Again, we are not always comparing identical information in the data available.  However, despite this disparity, the mean results are remarkably consistent:

  • The QILT GOS average salary across all demographics is AUD$64,777
  • In the UK salaries for graduates range from £17,500 to £26,000 on average depending on the skill level of the occupation and the sex of the earner.
  • In the US, the mean starting salary for a graduate with a Bachelor’s degree is USD$54,488

By looking at the PESCO data provided by the US Census Bureau the differences by location and occupation become even more pronounced. This set of data also includes graduate salaries 5-years post-graduation and 10-years post-graduation, at least for those still employed in the same field. The data from the most recent census is still being analysed, so the entire data set is not yet available. This creates a problem with this data for general use: it is focused on specific institutions and only data from select states, so does not reflect an overall federal trend.

Fields of Study With Highest Entry Level Salaries - Veterinary Medicine The UK data provided by HESA also goes deeper in some areas, by occupation, field of study, and more. A deeper dive in specific occupations reveals some interesting data and indicates the highest entry levels of pay in veterinary and human medicine.

Are these college degrees serving the learner well? The answer is, “it depends.” The factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Location
  • Field of study
  • Chosen occupation in that field of study
  • Skill levels (and proof of those skills)

Some of the data appears to show us that for those who seek certificates or graduate degrees, earnings, and the likelihood of being employed in their chosen field go up. This leads us nicely to the next learner outcome: “Are graduates seeking further education before embarking on a career.”

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Are graduates going further in their education?

Once again, data in different areas is defined differently, but we can determine some clear trends by looking at the overall picture.

  • First, according to the HESA UK data, 10% of graduates are employed, but seeking further education, 8% are in full-time further study, and 1% are in part-time further study for a total of 19%. We’ll look at those in further study a little deeper in a moment.
  • In the US, according to the NACE data, 17% are continuing their education, and 4% are seeking post-graduate training.
  • Lastly,  the QILT GOS Data reveals 18.6% of graduates in all fields of study are pursuing additional full-time study. Most of those are in the sciences and medicine areas of study.

1 in 5 Continue After Graudation Onto Further Study Looking at the UK HESA data, perhaps the most detailed of the information available, we see from 74,470 respondents, some interesting trends in those who are going further.

  • Those seeking a higher degree, mainly by research (e.g. Ph.D., DPhil, MPhil, MRes): 12,470, split as 75% in the sciences and 25% in non-science areas
  • Those seeking a higher degree, mainly by taught course: 25,500
  • Postgrad diploma or certificate seekers: 8,090
  • Professional qualification seekers: 9,005
  • More undergrad (such as a second Bachelor’s or an Integrated Master’s degree) 6,675
  • The remaining handful is split between various certificate programs

What about job-related training? The OECD reveals that a mean of around 16% of adult learners participated in job-related training and wanted more. A mean of 30% received training and didn’t want anymore, and around 15% did not participate but wanted to. The remainder of adult learners who participated in the survey did not participate in job-related training and didn’t want to.

The takeaway? Just under 1 in 5 graduates with an undergrad degree are pursuing some kind of further education. When they do, earnings and the likelihood of full-time employment in their chosen field go up as well.

But for those who are not working, why not? We will look at that next.

If graduates are not employed, why not?

We mentioned early on that there are a variety of reasons learners might not be employed even given the fact that they are technically employable. This difference is the very reason that no country will ever have true “zero unemployment.” Willful unemployment and even underemployment will always play a role, along with the three unemployment factors:

  • Frictional Unemployment, or workers who are between jobs
  • Structural unemployment, what we often call the skills gap
  • Surplus unemployment, or when there is an unfunded mandate like a hike in the minimum wage

However, when we look specifically at graduates we see a number of reasons they don’t take employment right away, and they seem to be the same regardless of country, and come in this order:

  • Further study
  • Travel or caring for a loved one
  • Unemployed and due to start a new study
  • Unemployed, but due to start work soon
  • Finally, those who are just generically unemployed

In other words, the majority of those “unemployed” are either employable and seeking employment or delaying it for some reason, or they are seeking more education so they become more employable.

But perhaps one of the most telling of indicators is learner satisfaction.

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Are learners satisfied with their education?

This one will be short because regardless of where surveys are taken, the results are nearly identical. Sort of. Let’s break the data down:

  • 80% of learners say they generally agree or strongly agree that they are satisfied with their learning outcome
  • Most are also satisfied with their general skills, just over 80% on average
  • Telling is that overall, only 65% are satisfied with the teaching scale

On the surface, these look like numbers that are not too bad, until you flip them around and realize around 7% don’t find their learning outcome meaningful, and 12% say their current situation does not fit with their future goals. Again, perhaps the most revealing is that when asked if they are utilising what they learned during their studies in their current situation, nearly 20% disagree or strongly disagree.

And while money can’t buy you happiness, those with more permanent employment and higher salaries display a higher level of satisfaction with their learning, and also feel their current activity is more aligned with their plans for the future.

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Data sources and challenges

As interesting as this data is, drawing conclusions is a bit challenging. First of all, not all of the most recent data is available, and not all of the data speaks the same language. Does this sound familiar? When we talk about education, we talk about translating between frameworks, and when we look at graduate outcomes, we face the same challenges.

And the latest data may not reflect what is normal or even the “new normal” that will emerge post-COVID. The simple reason is the disruption we talked about early on in this article: COVID accelerated what was already happening by revealing weaknesses when the system was put under global pressure. This is why tackling our next section is so challenging as well.

Graduate Outcomes Data - Sources and Challenges with Frameworks, Translation and Unification But it pays to simply state that if we are going to develop a decentralised, more universal education framework or translatable frameworks, we also need to gather more decentralised and objective data when it comes to graduate outcomes. In some ways, we also must expand the definition of these outcomes.

Private trade, vocational schools and non-degree training providers often keep outcomes siloed, and even if shared they may be industry and location-specific. This information, if combined with other data, could provide a much clearer picture of overall learner outcomes, and help learners determine the best path from where they are now to where they want to be.

What does that look like in the future?

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Predicting the future?

It is difficult to make any prediction without looking like a failed prophet by making specific predictions or a fortune-teller who makes general statements about scattered tea leaves, making her generally right because circumstances can seem to fit her predictions. However, what we can do is look at the overall education space, employer space, and learner space, and project some things based on what we see.

Here are some observations:

  • In part due to COVID, and in part for other reasons, college registrations across the board were down last year, at least in the US at four-year colleges. However, when you count community colleges and trade programs, learner enrolments were actually up year over year.
  • This has led to lower tuition levels and an increase in digital learning options, meaning the market value of education will actually be lower than initially predicted by 2025.
  • Venture Capitalists are investing in education. But not in the west. The biggest investments are happening in China and India, not the US, UK, or Australia.
  • EdTech is becoming a big sector, sort of. It will still only make up just over 5% of the total education market cap by 2025 unless something changes drastically. In part, this is due to public systems, where funding is at a premium.
  • Finally, due to the funding issues mentioned above along with employers’ need for specific skills, public universities are increasing their partnerships with private companies in larger numbers than ever before. This is a trend that will likely continue.

There is, of course, much we don’t know. We hope that the use of micro-credentials and digital badging becomes more prevalent. Will those courses be stackable so a learner can create their own degree? That would be a desirable outcome, but we have a long way to go to get to that point.

Will employers and companies continue to lead the micro-credential style of learning, or will it continue to make inroads into the formal education space? Will degrees include micro-credentials and become more skills-based? Again, this would be an ideal outcome, but as things stand most micro-courses are offered by companies, and that learning takes place outside of traditional frameworks.

When we asked our Magic 8 Ball if education will look the same in five years as it does now, the answer was “not likely.” What we do know for certain is that education is ripe for disruption and change, and perhaps that is the only thing we can predict with any accuracy. A decade from now, likely less, and degrees will probably look substantially different than they do right now. That will mean a whole new way of assessing graduate outcomes.

We can’t wait to see what this new normal looks like and we’d love you to become a part of the discussion. Let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.

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How Credentialate provides a new perspective

Credentialate is a secure, configurable platform that assesses and tracks attainment of competencies and issues micro-credentials to students backed by personalised evidence at scale. By automatically extracting data from existing platforms and using an organization’s own assessment rubrics, we can objectively measure awarding criteria and validate its evidence.

By this same method we can automate the assessment, monitoring, promotion and validation of evidence-backed skills. For an institution, we provide the data and insights required to track skills and competencies across courses and entire programs.

Finally, we have decades of collective experience in educational technology and long-standing ties with global educational powerhouses. These solidify our ability to produce credible digital badges.

Credentialate assesses, monitors, promotes and validates learners’ attainment of evidence-backed skills, supporting the transition from learner to earner. It is a secure, configurable platform that assesses and tracks attainment of competencies and issues micro-credentials in a digital badge to students. If you’d like to learn more About Us and how we can work together, contact us or Schedule a Demo and let’s discuss!

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