Measuring Graduate Quality - May 28, 2012
A few months ago, there was in a discussion with a number of colleagues about how one should go about measuring how well universities and colleges prepare students for the labour market. It's a tough question to answer.
Employment rates aren't helpful because those move with the economic cycle (and in places like Alberta with tight labour markets, low unemployment might be more of a sign of desperation for warm bodies than it is of educational quality). Employer satisfaction surveys are tough to interpret because a) the respondent doesn't always know a particular employee, and b) these surveys never disaggregate the responses of employers in areas which are related and unrelated to the field of study, which means there is a lot of valuable information being lost. Subject matriculation tests are obviously out.
So what to do?
Don't think there's any choice but to rely on input from employers in some form. I mean, at the end of the day, you have to assume they know something about whether their workers are getting the job done or not.
Where I think current employer surveys go wrong is in trying to establish what employers think of each individual graduate so as to rate the outputs of individual college or university programs. This, frankly, is nuts. Major curricular differences between programs at different institutions these days aren't all that common. Differences between individuals are as likely to be due to innate qualities and personal characteristics as they are to the instruction received.
Anyways, it occurred to me that surely what matters most from a public policy perspective is whether the system as a whole is producing graduates that meet the needs of employers. So why not ask employers that question instead of the whole present rigamarole?
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