Prepare for the next stage of life

Having achieved, by graduation, successful preparation for the next stage of one’s life

Part 1

Oglethorpe University expects that the vast majority of its graduates will, upon graduation, be eager, qualified and prepared to either enter the workforce or enter a graduate or professional program leading to an advanced degree. To that end, we attempt to collect data from soon-to-be graduating seniors about their post-Oglethorpe plans. We also survey alumni (especially fairly recently minted ones) concerning the trajectories of their lives following graduation.

Nature of Data

In the last several years, Oglethorpe University has employed both the Senior Survey and the Alumni Survey produced and managed by HEDS (Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium).

An invitation to complete the Senior Survey goes out each relevant spring to those who have anticipated degree conferral in May, August or December of that year. Response rates are typically reasonably good. For example, in 2014 invitations were sent to 246 students who reasonably might achieve degree completion in calendar year 2014. Of those, 116 students (47%) completed the survey although 128 (52%) answered some questions. Similar response rates were observed in 2013.

The Alumni Survey was administered in 2014-15 only. Because we had not done this alumni survey before, we sent out invitations to participate to 798 alumni who had graduated over the previous approximately 15 years. Of these, 123 (or 15%) were eventually completed, although 160 (20%) answered at least some questions. The alumni survey response rate was obviously poor, although still comparable to what other institutions often observe in such situations.

In both the Senior Survey and the Alumni Survey, there are considerable numbers of questions related to the sorts of information we are probing here, namely data relevant to perceived and actual preparedness for the next step in one’s life, be that graduate or professional school, a first job, etc. We will focus only on data related most directly to this theme.

Comparison Group

For each survey, HEDS provides a report which compares Oglethorpe’s responses to those which are (in aggregate) generated by all other schools which participated in the particular survey. This is good in the sense that it gives us a ready-made comparison group for each survey. But it also has several downsides, not the least of which are:

  • The comparisons groups are not constant either between surveys or between years. So the schools against which Oglethorpe was compared in the 2013 Senior Survey is an entirely different group than that against which we are compared in the 2014 Senior Survey. And the colleges comprising our comparison group for the 2014-15 Alumni Survey is again entirely different.
  • Aside from the inconsistency in the comparison groups, there is also the issue of these institutions almost invariably being quite different than Oglethorpe. Some are liberal arts colleges and some are not. More pertinently, virtually all of them have significantly more financial resources and also have student bodies which tend to be wealthier and less diverse than ours.

There is nothing we can do about the comparison group issues raised above. But the reader should be aware that this confound exists as he/she reads the following section.

Benchmark (Target)

Oglethorpe University should (when appropriate relative to the nature of the question/probe on the survey) compare favorably to the average over all participating institutions in the surveys mentioned above.

Data and Analysis

First, we can look at the HEDS Senior Surveys to gain some perspectives on seniors’ perceptions of how the institution has helped them to prepare for the next stage in their lives. Consider the question, “My non-classroom interactions with faculty have had a positive influence on my career goals and aspirations.” Responses are tabulated below:

 Strongly DisagreeDisagreeNeutralAgreeStrongly Agree
2013 Oglethorpe1%4%24%30%41%
2013 Comparison Group1%5%24%38%31%
2014 Oglethorpe1%2%19%42%36%
2014 Comparison Group1%6%22%40%31%

What is most interesting is that most of the variability in this table in in the last two columns, and in both of those Oglethorpe ends up in a more favorable situation than the comparison groups. Another question relating to seniors’ perception of the institution is, “Overall, to what extent have your experiences at this institution prepared you for the following…”

  Very LittleSomeQuite a BitVery Much
Graduate or Professional School2013 Oglethorpe8%17%31%44%
2013 Comparison Group5%17%41%37%
2014 Oglethorpe5%12%39%44%
2014 Comparison Group5%18%40%37%
Career2013 Oglethorpe9%22%38%31%
2013 Comparison Group6%23%40%31%
2014 Oglethorpe4%20%46%30%
2014 Comparison Group5%23%41%31%

As before, most of the variability is in the final two columns and Oglethorpe’s position typically either equals or is more favorable than schools in the comparison groups.

Seniors were queried about their plans immediately after graduation by being asked, “Please indicate the ONE activity that you consider your PRIMARY plan for this fall.”

 2013 Oglethorpe2013 Comparison Group2014 Oglethorpe2014 Comparison Group
Full-time employment or internship63%58%59%61%
Part-time employment or internship4%6%3%4%
Full-time graduate or professional school16%17%21%18%
Part-time graduate or professional school2%2%2%1%
Additional undergraduate coursework2%2%1%1%
Military service1%1%1%1%
Volunteer/National Service Activity (Peace Corps, Americorps, etc.)2%3%0%3%
Starting or raising a family1%0%2%0%
Other activity3%3%4%2%

These results seem remarkably uniform across both years and institutions. Obviously about 60% of the students polled plan on working full-time at a job or internship and another 15-20% plan on attending graduate or professional school the fall after their graduation.

Since we have seen that the great majority of soon-to-be alumni plan on starting a full- or part-time job or internship the ensuing fall, it is reasonable to ask them the status of that job/internship search. That was the object of this question (which was asked only of those who selected one of the first two answers in the previous table): “Which of the following BEST describes the current state of your employment plans? Exclude search for summer-only employment.

 2013 Oglethorpe2013 Comparison Group2014 Oglethorpe2014 Comparison Group
Accepted a position34%27%33%29%
Offered a position and refused; still searching for preferred position7%3%0%3%
Considering one or more specific offers6%8%7%8%
Currently searching for a position or waiting on an offer42%48%48%49%
Will begin searching for a position after graduation11%13%12%11%

To the extent that such data are reliable, these show that Oglethorpe students have a marginally better record at having secured a job or internship prior to graduation, and also a slightly better records as far as their ability to receive an offer they deemed unacceptable.

One confounding thing about the Senior Survey is that it asks students what they anticipate they will be doing several months after graduation. Obviously, there is no guarantee that such plans ever came to fruition. Also, students were queried about their perceptions of Oglethorpe just at the time when they were probably most fond of it, and there is no way of telling how that might have influenced their responses. That is one purpose of the Alumni Survey—to probe these same sorts of issues one, two, even ten years after graduation. As was mentioned earlier, we administered the survey to a wide variety of classes, going back about 15 years. For purposes of this analysis, however, we will look only at responses from two cohorts, one (the “1-Year Cohort”) a year past their graduation and the other (the “5-Year Cohort”) five years out. These are convenient and customary cohorts to examine, although we place more interest in the 1-Year Cohort because, as time moves forward, alumni will be less and less influenced by their alma mater and more and more influenced by what has happened to them since graduation.

We will start by looking at how alumni perceptions may differ from senior perspectives regarding how the institution helped them to prepare for the next stage in their lives. Consider once again the prompt, “My non-classroom interactions with faculty have had a positive influence on my career goals and aspirations.” This is an exact replicate of a prompt we talked about already for the Senior Survey. Alumni responses are tabulated below:

 Strongly DisagreeDisagreeNeutralAgreeStrongly Agree
2014-15 Oglethorpe 1-year Cohort2%11%16%22%49%
2014-15 Comparison Group 1-year Cohort2%3%15%33%47%
2014-15 Oglethorpe 5-year Cohort0%11%25%21%43%
2014-15 Comparison Group 5-year Cohort1%6%18%28%47%
Among Oglethorpe alumni, those who Strongly Agree represent an even higher proportion of responses than was reported on either the 2013 or the 2014 Senior Survey. But it is also true that those who responded with both Neutral and Disagree increased among the alumni. And Oglethorpe is no longer doing much better than the comparison groups, and in some ways doing slightly poorer. But, as was mentioned, these are perception data—opinions—and they may simply be changing because time alone changes one’s perceptions.
Another question relating to alumni perception of the institution (and another question lifted verbatim from the Senior Survey) is, “Overall, to what extent have your experiences at this institution prepared you for the following…”

  Very LittleSomeQuite a BitVery Much
Graduate or Professional School2014-15 Oglethorpe 1-year Cohort7%12%36%45%
2014-15 Comparison Group 1-year Cohort5%18%35%42%
2014-15 Oglethorpe 5-year Cohort0%33%22%44%
2014-15 Comparison Group 5-year Cohort6%14%32%47%
Current Career2014-15 Oglethorpe 1-year Cohort20%13%36%31%
2014-15 Comparison Group 1-year Cohort12%22%31%34%
2014-15 Oglethorpe 5-year Cohort4%43%29%25%
2014-15 Comparison Group 5-year Cohort8%23%39%30%

Interestingly, the part dealing with Graduate or Professional School yields results (both for the 1-Year and the 5-Year Cohorts) not unlike the results we saw for our seniors in the 2013 and 2014 Senior Survey. But on the “Current Career” part we see some interesting deviations from the seniors. The 1-Year Cohort gives more credit to Oglethorpe than did our two groups of seniors as regards preparation for their current career. But the situation is opposite for the 5-Year Cohort, at least in some regards. This actually makes sense: at 5 years out career trajectories probably seem a lot more influenced by one’s past job performance and experience than they seem to be influenced by one’s undergraduate institution. As to contrasting ourselves to our two Comparison Groups, the results all seem similar for the “Very Much” and “Very Little Choices,’ but our competitors seem to win slightly when comparing “Some” to “Quite a Bit.”

Finally, the Alumni Survey asks respondents to “Please indicate which of the following describes your current primary activity:”

 2014-15 Oglethorpe 1-year Cohort2014-15 Comparison Group 1-year Cohort2014-15 Oglethorpe 5-year Cohort2014-15 Comparison Group 5-year Cohort
Full-time employment56%53%82%70%
Part-time employment7%8%0%3%
Employment across multiple jobs7%6%7%5%
Full-time graduate or professional school20%22%11%16%
Part-time graduate or professional school0%2%0%1%
Military service0%1%0%0%
Volunteer/National Service Activity (Peace Corps, Americorps, etc.)0%2%0%0%
Unemployed, but seeking employment, admission to graduate school, etc7%6%0%3%
Unemployed and not seeking employment or admission to graduate school, etc.4%1%0%2%

It seems that Oglethorpe’s 1-Year Cohort is essentially indistinguishable from our Comparison Group’s 1-Year Cohort. But interesting and potentially discriminating differences exist for the 5-Year Cohorts. Oglethorpe has a noticeably higher percentage of alumni who hold full-time jobs, which out Comparison Group has more part-time employees, more students still in graduate school, and more unemployed.

In sum, it seems as if our alumni are doing very well, both relatively and absolutely, both one- and five-years out from their graduation.

Having achieved, by graduation, successful preparation for the next stage of one’s life

Part 2

Oglethorpe has a relatively robust program leading to a B.S. or B.B.A. degree in Accounting. Many of these graduates will want to pursue the licensure as a CPA (Certified Public Accountant). There are several components to achieving the designation of licensed CPA and these requirements vary somewhat from state to state.

In Georgia, requirements include:

  • A minimum amount of education (150 semester hours including the earning of a baccalaureate degree with at least a concentration, if not a major, in Accounting); and
  • A minimum amount of professional experience; and
  • Passage of the Uniform CPA Exam.

The CPA exam is perhaps the most difficult part of the requirements to meet. The exam consists of four parts. A person may sit for one, two, three or all four sections of the test during a particular session. The first-time pass rate is the percentage of persons who pass a given section on their first try. If a person does not pass one or more of the sections on the first try, the person can retake the sections individually again later. These persons are known as re-examinees. Oglethorpe tracks performance of our alumni on the CPA Exam for several reasons. First, it is a highly regulated, extensive examination required for an important licensure that a significant number of our alumni desire. Therefore their performance on this exam is a substantial reflection on Oglethorpe’s ability to produce qualified CPAs. Second, historically there have been extensive data available allowing us to compare our alumni’s success on the exam to the success rates of examinees coming from other institutions.

Nature of Data

The Uniform CPA exam is developed, maintained and score by the AICPA (American Institute of CPAs). The AICPA distributes an extensive data set, albeit for a fee. For each postsecondary institution which has fielded at least five candidates taking the CPA Exam during a given year, one can find how many first-time candidates there were, how many unique sections of the exam these candidates took, the percent first-time pass rate (the percentage of sections which were passed on the first try), and the average first-time score. The same data are available for all candidates in aggregate, both first-timers and re-examinees. The AICPA provides much additional data beyond those mentioned here, but there is no point in discussing them.

In this report we will focus only on the first-time examinees. These are the students most recently graduated from college. And therefore it is the first-time pass rate and the first-time score which are most intrinsically linked to undergraduate learning. Further, we have opted to focus only on the first-time pass rate and ignore the first-time score. The reason for this is that the critical outcome is that one pass, not that one pass with a certain score.

Comparison Group

We will take our comparison group the group the twenty-three 4-year post-secondary institutions (including Oglethorpe) which are members of GICA (Georgia Independent College Association; see earlier discussion in the “Making a Successful Transition to College” section). In 2012 and 2013, only 9 (including Oglethorpe) of the 23 GICA institutions fielded sufficient CPA Exam candidates to warrant inclusion in the AICPA data tables. Thus this collection of nine GICA institutions was chosen to form the core of our CPA comparison group. However, when the 2014 CPA data was released in March 2015, we were quite surprised to find that only three of those nine institutions merited inclusion. This is surely a participation threshold issue. Recall that a school must field at least five CPA candidates for its data to be released in aggregate. Apparently only three of the GICA institutions (Berry College, Mercer University and Oglethorpe) met this standard in 2014. For now we will continue to take the corpus of nine GICA institutions that were represented in the 2012 and 2013 data to be our comparison group. As a consequence, the 2014 data will seem quite odd, as six member schools dropped out of the picture. Because there is no guarantee that this peculiar situation has changed in the interim, we have also made the choice to not pay the fee to study the 2015 CPA data (which was available in spring of 2016). We will have to re-evaluate both our comparison group and also our willingness to continue monitoring the CPA exam results if this dearth of comparison group data continues in future years.

Benchmark (Target)

Oglethorpe University should demonstrate a first-time pass rate on the Unified CPA Exam which is at least in the top half of the GICA group used for comparison.

Data and Analysis

CPA data for our comparison group during the years 2012 through 2014. Data is for first-time (FT) examinees of all degree levels. That is, those who have earned degrees beyond a baccalaureate degree are included as long as this was their first time taking the CPA exam. In the table, “Exam.” stands for “Examinees.”

Comparison GroupFT Exam.FT % PassFT Exam.FT % PassFT Exam.FT % Pass
Berry College662.5866.750.0
Brenau University942.91127.8No DataNo Data
Clark Atlanta University349.31722.2No DataNo Data
Mercer University4257.93554.4861.5
Morehouse College1058.81550.0No DataNo Data
Oglethorpe University1356.71645.0950.0
Piedmont College720.0614.3No DataNo Data
Shorter UniversityNo DataNo Data650.0No DataNo Data
Wesleyan College660.0638.5No DataNo Data
Mean Value15.946.013.341.07.337.2
Oglethorpe's Rank Order3/85/83/95/91/32/3

The above data is presented graphically below:

CPA small
Oglethorpe is exactly or approximately at the mid-point for first-time pass rate of the GICA comparison group in all three years, and therefore our benchmark has been satisfied. The dearth of data for 2014 is concerning, however. Oglethorpe’s performance is perhaps all the more impressive given that our program (in terms of the number of first-time candidates) is one of the most productive among the nine institutions even though we are of small absolute size and have no graduate business or accountancy programs (which some of the other institutions do have).

Concluding Remarks

The data provided demonstrates our students are successful in

  • making a successful transition to college
  • making satisfactory progress in each course
  • making satisfactory progress each semester in which they are enrolled
  • and achieving successful preparation for the next stage of one’s life

Oglethorpe is proud of our challenging academic curriculum which combines our intensive core program with comprehensive major fields of study. Servicing a highly diverse student body, both ethnically and financially diverse, we work diligently to assure all student’s needs are met and our graduates are prepared to make a life, make a living, and make a difference. To this point, US News and World Report has named us an “over-performer” when it comes to graduating low-income students in a recent article.