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Emsi: Data Works

Labor market insight for higher education leaders

Students Seek Clear Outcomes (And Need Your Help Finding Them)

February 2017


Students have it all on the line when it comes to career outcomes. Time. Money. Their future careers. With employers expecting more from graduates and tuition acting as a serious barrier to entry, students are taking the job prospects associated with their education more seriously than ever.

Students—and concerned parents—are taking note of the demanding labor market and wanting more from colleges when it comes to informing career and education paths.

The majority of students are pursuing college degrees to receive training for a specific career that will both land them a better job and lead to a better income.1

So, the question isn’t whether students care about career outcomes, but rather what role colleges play in educating students about programs and their career outcomes.

Informing Prospective Students

Imagine you’re a prospective student in the early stages of searching for the next step in your career and education journey. You don’t have an exact outcome in mind. All you know is that the job you have now doesn’t provide the financial stability you need.

Now imagine—as that potential student—searching your local community college’s website and coming across a program that catches your interest. You skim the two-paragraph program description and outline of the required courses only to come up empty-handed.

The questions you care about most go unanswered.

What type of career would this program lead to?

How much money would I make?

How easy would it be for me to get a job?

How frustrating would that be?

If the college doesn’t provide that information, who would? Where would you turn?

When identifying “website content that demonstrates the value of education from an institution” 74% of high school juniors and seniors chose “job placement stats”—the top response. 2

Yet, when asked “Which of the following sections of college websites are the most difficult to use?”, 46% of teens selected “what kind of jobs I can get as a graduate.” A neck-and-neck top response with “tuition, costs, and financial aid.” 3

This is a clear opportunity for colleges to improve their online presence and win over potential students.

In fact, more than half of four-year public institutions and 84% of two-year public institutions leave students wanting when it comes to detailing “job placement stats and other outcomes online.” 4

But there’s more at stake than getting new students in the door.

Engaging & Retaining Current Students

Attrition rates for two-year public institutions accumulate to 66% over four semesters. Public and private four-year institutions are up against 45% and 42% rates respectively over the span of five semesters. 5

The issue here is twofold: unfulfilled revenue potential and unhappy customers.

Colleges can take the information that matters most to students and use it to keep them engaged throughout their education.

55% of students believe that knowing their ideal career path will improve their college performance. 6

45% reported that they study “much harder” when they perceive a direct connection between their coursework and their planned career. 6

50% said that knowing their career assessment results made them more likely to study. 6

How Students Respond to Outcomes Information

We decided to dig into this a bit deeper by analyzing usage data for Career Coach—our resource used by nearly 400 institutions. Career Coach connects to college websites and enables users to explore careers, understand their regional wage and growth potential, and enroll in a program that would train them for that field.

Every institution has a different approach to driving usage among their students. Practices include placing links to Career Coach on website home pages, in drop-down menus, in footers, on program pages, on advising pages, and in student information systems, to name a few.

We studied the effects of promoting Career Coach clearly on program web pages. What we found wasn’t surprising.

Of colleges that clearly promote Career Coach on their program pages, 68% have above-average usage rates—a 28% increase from colleges that do not.

What conclusions can we draw from this?

1. It shows that when students are presented with career outcomes information—the information they’re seemingly asking for time and again—they press in. They engage deeper. They are willing to take the time to learn more about outcomes associated with their program of interest.

2. It highlights a college’s opportunity to influence students’ career and education paths. Most students aren’t 100% sure of their career path when they land on a program page. They’re open to guidance. To data that says, “this is a great fit!” or perhaps, “this may not be the right path for you.”

By making career outcome information available to students, and a priority within the institution, colleges have the chance to create a positive impact that benefits both parties. More students engaging in their coursework. More students graduating. More students working in a career they love related to their program of study.


  1. The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2015, Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA
  2. 2015 E-Expectations Report, Ruffalo Noel Levitz
  3. Mythbusting Websites 2016: What Professionals Believe Teens Think About Higher Ed Websites — And What Teens Really Think, Chegg Enrollment Services, mStoner
  4. 5 Gaps in College Digital Marketing, Ruffalo Noel Levitz
  5. 2016 National Freshmen Motivation to Complete College Report, Ruffalo Noel Levitz
  6. The Next Generation’s View: Career and Personal Fulfillment, CPP, INC.