Some of you have heard me mention a study that we (AKA our massive juggernaut of an IR office better known to most of you as Kimberly and Mark) started last spring called the Winding Path Study. In short, this study was designed to gather information from all living Augustana alumni (at least those for whom we had working email addresses) about the nature of their adult lives from the time they entered Augustana up until last spring.
During the twelve months of strategic planning discussions, one of the things that stood out to me was how much we really don’t know about the long-term impact of an Augustana education. Don’t get me wrong; we have lots of wonderful stories about Augustana graduates excelling in all sorts of professional and personal pursuits. But we don’t know nearly as much as we would like about the nature of our alum’s lives after college: the ways that they have handled success and failure, the adjustments they have had to make when life throws them a curveball, or the ways that their Augustana experiences might have influenced twists and turns in their life’s path right after graduation or much later in life. This information matters because, if we are preparing students to succeed throughout their adult lives, we need to know how those lives play out across personal and professional domains and as our alums grow and change over time.
After looking through all of the different ways that colleges have tried to survey their alumni, we couldn’t find any approach that matched our conceptual frame or addressed the questions we had constructed. So we rolled up our metaphorical sleeves and built a study from scratch based on the sociological theory of Life Course Perspective, a construct that describes the life course as a series of trajectories, transitions, and turning points.
In this post I’d like to share a few summary findings just to give you a flavor for what we’ve seen from the almost 2,800 responses we received last spring in the first stage of this project.
The first two questions explored the nature of our alum’s path when entering Augustana and moving through their undergraduate years.
- Did you have a specific career goal or major in mind when you came to Augustana?
- 53% – Yes; I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted to do
- 33% – Somewhat; I had some ideas but wasn’t set on anything in particular
- 12% – No; I didn’t know what I wanted to do at all
- Did you change majors or career goals while you were an undergraduate?
- 38% – Yes
- 61% – No
- What path did you take right after graduation from Augustana?
- 26% – Went to grad school in the same field that I studied
- 8% – Went to grad school in a different field than I studied
- 42% – Took a job or volunteered in the same field that I studied
- 15% – Took a job or volunteered in a different field than I studied
- 2% – Took time off to pursue other interests
- 7% – Other
The next set of questions explored the varied nature of our graduates’ adult lives. Although we couldn’t have possibly captured every facet of an adult life, our goal was to gather a first glimpse that could be explored in more detail later.
- How many times have you changed jobs since you graduate from Augustana?
- 16% – None
- 27% – 1-2
- 28% – 3-4
- 16% – 5-6
- 11% – 7 or more
- How many of those job changes occurred because of a professional opportunity that you chose to pursue?
- 22% – None
- 36% – 1-2
- 22% – 3-4
- 11% – 5-6
- 5% – 7 or more
- How many of those job changes occurred because of a professional disruption (downsizing, bankruptcy, termination, etc.)?
- 67% – None
- 23% – 1-2
- 3% – 3-4
- 1% – 5-6
- 0% – 7 or more
- Were any of your job changes influenced by family considerations?
- 39% – Yes
- 56% – No
- Were any of your job changes influenced by personal considerations?
- 54% – Yes
- 41% – No
(Please note that some folks didn’t respond to every question, resulting in some proportions equaling less than 100%).
These findings deepened our understanding of the variety of pathways that students pursue after college. Almost one quarter of our graduates, immediately after college, entered graduate school or took a job in a different field than their major. These findings also strengthened our belief that preparing students for successful lives after college goes far beyond one’s major or minor and extends long past the first job, first graduate school degree, or whatever the first thing a student chooses to do after college might be.
As you can also see, many if not most Augustana alumni have likely led adult lives that look more like winding paths than straight lines. These findings – even if they might seem fairly obvious to anyone who has lived through the reality of an unpredictable life – have shaped our thinking as we continue to design a college experience that prepares every student to carve through life after college – no matter what comes out of the woodwork.
The first stage of this study concluded with a question at the end of the survey asking if the respondent would be willing to participate in a half-hour interview. Based on prior research experience, we expected 100-200 positive responses. We received over 1,400 positive responses! So the next step for us, after spending the last six months analyzing all of the open-ended responses, is to develop a framework for the interviews and how we will select potential interviewees. We would like to interview as many as possible, but frankly, the specter of 1,400 interviews is a bit daunting! Moreover, because we also asked other categorizing information like the year the respondent graduated, their major, and their current profession, we have all kinds of ways that we can organize and analyze this data.
Over the rest of the academic year, I hope I’ll have another update on the results of the second phase of this study. In the mean time, enjoy the last week of the fall term!
Make it a good day,