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An in-depth study of administrative data on post-graduation achievement released in early August found the majority of bachelor’s degree graduates from the University enter into professional services or the health care industry within 10 years of graduating. The data was collected by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Innovation and Science in collaboration with other research universities across the country.
The study, which was led by Jason Owen-Smith, the executive director of IRIS and professor of sociology, also included data on students’ income levels, career paths and geographic location based on the major they pursued at the University. While careers in the professional, scientific and technical service industries attracted 24 percent of graduates, the largest percentage of any individual field, jobs in business administration, management and operations yielded the highest income with an average mid career earning of $149,405.
Owen-Smith said the data collection was a three-year process that included information from public universities in Colorado, Wisconsin, Texas and Michigan. He explained IRIS used a platform the organization had previously built for a pilot project to analyze data from the US Census Bureau, which then allowed them to collect information about post-grad achievement specific to the University.
“As we talked to our universities, it became clearer and clearer that many of the places we work with wanted to be able to talk about this in terms of their educational mission as well,” Owen-Smith said. “And there wasn’t good data out there to do that work systematically.”
Owen-Smith added though he was originally not allowed to see the data himself, since only research analysts from IRIS are allowed access to preliminary information, he and his team began to see initial results about eight months ago. This data could only be viewed in the Federal Research Data Center, a room in the basement of IRIS that is classified as a “protected environment.”
Owen-Smith emphasized the importance of the privacy protection process in handling sensitive data like those in this study.
“These are not alumni association surveys where you go out and ask students what they’re doing,” Owen-Smith said. “This is basically transcript data, or a subset of transcript data that the University shares that is then linked to national unemployment insurance and tax data to show where people get jobs.”
Dan Meisler, the communications and marketing coordinator for IRIS, said it’s important to draw a distinction between data collected through voluntary surveys and those that are administrative in nature.
“The data itself has been collected by the universities forever,” Meisler said. “So we didn’t do any new surveys or anything like that. This is administrative data that U-M collects on their students.”
The data primarily categorizes graduates by the subject area they majored in at the University, showing how many students pursued a career path related to their major, the average income level for each major, and what careers are most popular with a certain concentration. Meisler said the data is particularly important for current undergraduates because it shows majors play less of a role in career choice than many people think.
“Just skimming over the data, you can see where people end up working in industries that have nothing to do with their major,” Meisler said. “To think that your major determines your career track, I think this data proves that may not be the case.”
Owen-Smith cited data from the study that showed the second most popular field English literature majors go into is health care. He said another important goal of the study was to give students the opportunity to visualize how unexpected economic downturns, like the 2008 Great Recession, can impact career choices and overall incomes for recent graduates.
“Understanding those kinds of data, and being able to link them to better information about what the University does in its programs, gives you the possibility of thinking about how an institution like this one can help educate students to be able to weather these kind of big, unexpected changes,” Owen-Smith said.
Timothy McKay, the associate dean for undergraduate education at LSA and professor of physics, worked with Owen-Smith and IRIS on the study. In an email to The Daily, McKay said collecting this data is critical to understanding how universities prepare students for success in future careers and where there is room for improvement.
“We want to be sure that we're preparing them well for life,” McKay said. “We hope our graduates are prepared to participate richly in life, establishing productive careers, engaging with their communities, helping to make the world a better place. Good data can help us be sure that we're doing our job.”
The data, which showed health-related fields are becoming increasingly popular with undergraduate students across all majors, correlates to the large number of students pursuing the pre-medicine track. Though the University does not have a specific pre-med undergraduate major, the University’s pre-med program was recently ranked as one of the top in the country.
LSA junior Sasha Tretyakova, president of pre-med fraternity Mu Epsilon Delta, said joining a pre-professional group offered a sense of support for her and other students interested in the field.
“Having other people who sort of understand this intense, always-present pressure that you’re under is really helpful,” Tretyakova said. “There’s nothing quite so horrible about being pre-med, but it feels like there needs to be more hours in a day and just knowing you’re not the only person dealing with all of that pressure is super great.”
Tretyakova said while data like the data published by IRIS should be used to gauge what career fields graduates go into and how income varies by major, students should still understand the value of all areas of study.
“Although the push to STEM is super great and I think it’s super important, I also think sometimes studies like this tend to sort of devalue the humanities,” Tretyakova said. “This is, of course, not good. STEM is amazing, and obviously I love it and I want a career in it, but the humanities are super vital in problem-solving and creating working societies.”