Is Higher Education Measuring Up? The KPIs Employers Use to Measure New Graduates


Wise job seekers conduct substantial research when they’re deciding if they want to accept an offer from an organization. It isn’t just about the salary or benefits, either; prospective employees also consider the reputation of a company and the opportunities that exist for their growth.

Employers also study up on their candidates, gathering resumes, cover letters, demo assignments, looking at an applicant’s online presence, and conducting interviews. They also consider skills and higher education, of course, with the reputation of a college or university often weighing in the overall equation. 

But how do employers really measure the value of where an applicant received their degree or certification? Some measures are steeped in tradition and reputation; “Ivy League” is a perfect example. What is it about a school or program that actually gives employers confidence that a new hire will produce results?

Making use of a key performance indicator (KPI) can take some of the subjectivity out of the evaluation of higher education. When colleges and universities make an effort to define goals that are quantifiable, provide plans around reaching those goals, and report on real outcomes, it builds substantial confidence in their programs.   

Let’s consider some of the KPIs that higher education is defining that will demonstrate the real career readiness that employers are looking for.


What Makes a Good KPI in Higher Education

According to, a good performance measure includes:

  • A description of the results that you want to achieve
  • What data will support those results
  • How and how often supporting data will be captured
  • Who is responsible for monitoring and achieving the desired result
  • Where and when status checks and results will be available

When higher education institutions use KPIs that follow these guidelines, they can provide substantiated data that shows where their programs are successful. They can also identify areas for improvement and make actionable recommendations for new goals and objectives. This data can be a powerful tool for recruiting, building mentorship programs, and earning recognition. 

KPI reports are also an excellent way for employers to verify the strengths of an academic program. For example, Northeastern Illinois University has a public KPI Progress Report that clearly identifies their current metrics, goals, and their timetable for measuring their data. A quick read of this report shows that 46% of seniors are currently participating in “High Impact Practices” which includes research with faculty, internships, and other experiences that would indicate desirable skills to a future employer. The report also shows a goal of 50% participation by the fall of 2022, so a company would know that this is something that the university is actively working to grow. 

Hart Research Associates gathered findings from online surveys of employers, conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, to determine what employers are looking for in their new graduate hires. Among their findings, the report shares:

“Written and oral communication skills, teamwork skills, ethical decision-making, critical thinking skills, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings are the most highly valued among the 17 skills and knowledge areas tested.”

KPIs are a way to meaningfully measure the soft skills that employers are looking for. Institutions of higher education can actively work to demonstrate their dedication in preparing students across these areas and sharing data that supports their efforts. 

Defining meaningful KPIs for education can be challenging, but we’ve gathered some great starting points to consider in a few categories: enrollment and engagement, faculty and programs, and student success.


KPIs for Enrollment and Engagement

Higher education can certainly indicate the value of their programs by tracking their enrollment. Are students choosing your program over others? Is your enrollment growing? Beyond that measure, what about engagement on campus? Are students choosing to live in dorms and participate in campus life? 

Enrollment and engagement KPIs may include:

  • Acceptance: At what rate is your institution (and smaller programs) accepting students?
  • Transferring: How many students choose to transfer in or out?
  • Overall Enrollment: Is the total enrollment for a college or university growing?
  • Retention: Are students finishing the programs that they start? 

These statistics are some of the most common for higher education to track, but a true KPI includes a goal and a plan for how to get there. Once you understand the current state of these measures, decide which ones are most important and what type of growth you would like to see. Then develop goals that will support that effort, like additional marketing, recruitment, or support for students who are already in specialized programs.


KPIs for Faculty and Programs

The faculty and programs available to students are definitely a powerful recruitment and retention tool, but they can also be a great measure of future success for their students. If colleges and universities can demonstrate that their faculty brings the right expertise and is focusing on providing instruction in areas that employers care about then those companies can hire graduates with a higher level of confidence.

Faculty and program KPIs may include:

  • Faculty Expertise: How are faculty members qualified for their posts?
  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio: Are there enough faculty members to support and mentor students?
  • Tenure Rates: Have faculty members built up tenure, indicating a strong program?
  • Program Design: Are faculty members actively including leadership programs and soft skills in their syllabi that build well-rounded graduates? 
  • Mentorship Programs: Is the faculty supported by industry mentors and alumni who can prepare students for the workforce? Are these mentors helping students understand how to exhibit their full range of skills?

Faculty and staff are in a powerful position to build a curriculum that includes both hard and soft skills in high demand in the job market. Professors who are actively developing and monitoring these types of programs can use that work as both a recruitment tool and an indicator to companies that their students will be prepared for successful careers.


KPIs for Student Success

Graduation is the most obvious indicator of student success, but it certainly isn’t the only thing students should achieve during their time in college. Students should have opportunities to participate on campus, conduct meaningful research, and gain certifications that will help them in their future job search.   

An example of KPIs to measure student success may include:

  • Student Participation and Engagement: The number of students attending special events, participating in honors programs, or contributing to other leadership groups.
  • Persistence and Graduation Rates: What is the enrollment from semester to semester? What are the graduation rates for the institution? 
  • Additional Certifications: Are students graduating with leadership endorsements, certificates, minors, or other credentials that recommend them for employment?
  • Passing Rates for Licensure Exams: Licensing exams can show the effectiveness of programs and curricula in giving students the tools and resources that the industry expects them to have.

Measurable ways to track student success are a powerful indicator to a company that this person is not only qualified today but will also continue to be successful as an employee. Colleges and universities don’t have to build up all of these programs on their own — there are excellent certification programs that can help build the skills students need. Skill-based courses like those offered by LeaderU are designed to complement pre-existing higher education curricula, providing additional instruction and building skills that will help students be successful in their studies and their future careers. 


To learn more about how FranklinCovey’s LeaderU courses can help higher education institutions demonstrate their efforts to build well-rounded and successful graduates, contact us.


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