Alumni Survey: Learning key skills during college led to $8,700 more in earnings

Indianapolis, IN — At a time of growing societal uncertainty about the value of higher education and declining enrollment, the views of alumni turn out to be particularly insightful. This group can provide especially valuable feedback about how their education experiences have enriched their lives, which can help us ensure that today’s students maximize all the benefits that college offers.

In March and April of 2022 Strada conducted a nationally representative study of more than 3,200 alumni who completed bachelor’s degrees since 2002. The findings are eye opening – alumni who report they developed key skills during college earned $8,700 more in their first year after graduation than their peers who report lower levels of skill development through college. They are also more likely to attribute life and career successes to their education experiences. These key skills included general, interpersonal, and specialized skills.

To help students get the greatest benefits from their education—earnings, careers, and quality of life—educators and policy makers can confidently focus on supporting students in developing skills that will improve their post-completion outcomes. While many already pursue this approach to serving students, the findings in this analysis of the 2022 Strada Outcomes Survey point students and educators alike to the power of ensuring that students develop—and recognize—valuable skills that equip them to get a good job, contribute to their communities, and develop a fulfilling life.

“Higher education has come a long way in being able to measure economic returns,” said Dr. Nichole Torpey-Saboe, author of the report. “But we are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to understanding broader life outcomes. What I find so interesting about this research is that we can see the links between skills that alumni say they developed and both those economic and non-economic outcomes. And we see certain skills that rise to the top in terms of their connection with stronger post-completion outcomes. Our motivation for this research is really to uncover those key links that can help us all improve outcomes for students—especially those who face the most significant barriers.”

Another important thread to these findings was the understanding that equity gaps persist. Compared to men, women with bachelor’s degrees are less likely to meet the $50,000 earnings threshold. And Black alumni are least likely to experience post-completion success, including earning at least $50,000 per year, feeling that their education helped them to achieve their goals, and feeling that their education was worth the cost. In addition, although self-reporting of skill development is associated with better non-economic outcomes for all students, strong reports of skill development are not associated with additional income gains for Black alumni.

“We should not assume that students have opportunities to develop critical thinking, problem solving, communication, teamwork and leadership, as well as specialized skills like data analysis and digital literacy associated with jobs in the 21st century,” said Dr. Ruth Watkins, President of Strada Impact. “These skills can be intentionally built into curricular and co-curricular experiences to serve all students so that each individual is prepared to fully and equitably succeed beyond the completion of their degree.”

A complete report of the findings can be found here.