In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Higher Education Graduate Outcomes and Destinations

  • Introduction
  • Major International Initiatives

Education Higher Education Graduate Outcomes and Destinations
Edith Braun, Julia-Carolin Osada, Kristina Walz
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0233


Research in higher education graduate outcomes is a somewhat up-and-coming area of scientific interest. Since the new millennium, research has focused on examining the relationship between higher education, society, and the world, and on higher education as a response to demographic change and the demands of the knowledge society. During the last years, some scientists have concentrated on making international comparisons. Because there are not many international surveys, however, most employ the same data set. Research conducted with direct measurements of outcomes that go beyond self-reports based on questionnaires is rare. This article begins with an overview of international research initiatives. It then categorizes research as outcomes of higher education. There is a lot of conceptual research on frameworks of assessing learning outcomes, and outcomes are understood as learnable skills. Furthermore, outcomes of higher education can also be individual and societal returns. Next, this article presents results of research on higher education graduates’ destinations in terms of transitions and demands. Publications on transitions include the process of transitions as well as travel or study abroad that takes place during higher education. Investigations on professional demands include research on graduates ability to meet the requirements of the labor market as well as on graduates’ employability. All publications have in common the understanding of outcomes as benefits acquired through higher education. There is an impressive amount of evidence from different countries and regions that suggests that higher education has a positive impact on individual, societal, and economic outcomes. Because of its obvious advantages, more people than ever want access to higher education. We identified research mainly from Europe and North America. However, research on higher education has clearly made major headway worldwide; and publications, especially from less visible countries, are expected to contribute to future research on outcomes and destinations of higher education.

Major International Initiatives

This section introduces major international initiatives, which measure learning gain and other outcomes of higher education. Some of them are currently running and publishing the latest research results and drawing new conclusions. One of the most innovative projects has been the AHELO project of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This project aimed to investigate a valid concept of cross-national comparisons of higher education learning outcomes. Its innovation has been the measurement of cognitive ability that goes beyond self-reports in questionnaires. Although this research has shown much promise, it has some major methodological issues, such as limited participation rates and international fair tests. In the European context, the CHEERS and later on the REFLEX (see HEGESCO) and HEGESCO projects have conducted one of the largest graduate employability surveys worldwide, highlighting issues related to the employability of graduates that are occurring in the changing labor market. The LEGACY project of eighteen Russell Group universities in the United Kingdom aimed to identify core dimensions of learning gain across different disciplines. It also measured the impact of interventions and the efficacy of different measurement methods. KoKoHS is a German-based program with an international network. The aim of the program is to model and measure competences in higher education, some of its projects are mentioned below. The VALUE project in the United States has been a conjoint project that developed tools to assess students’ learning outcomes; as a result, rubrics are defined as an approach for measurement. Currently, there are several ongoing survey and measurement programs that focus on higher education (graduate) outcomes. For example, the World Bank developed the SABER-TE, a toolkit for assessing tertiary education systems that enables countries to draw on an evidence-based global review of what specific policies matter most. Similarly, the GOS-L, sponsored by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, collects data on students and graduates with the objective of assisting future students in making informed decisions about higher education options. As this overview reveals, learning outcomes is a major research objective, pursued by several major research projects and reported on in a spate of publications, as evident from the examples that follow:

  • AHELO. 2018. “Testing student and university performance globally: OECD’s AHELO.” Paris: OECD.

    The Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes aimed to develop a concept of cross-national comparisons of higher education learning outcomes in four strands (discipline strands in economics and engineering, generic skills strand, research-based “value-added”/”Learning Gain” measurement strand). Its value is the direct testing of competences, but some researchers are critical of its quantitative approach.

  • GOS-L. 2019. “Graduate outcomes survey longitudinal. Client: Australian Government Department of Education and Training.” Melbourne, Australia: Social Research Centre.

    The GOS-L is one component of the Australian quality indicators for learning and teaching (QILT) surveys. It addresses all graduates of higher education three years after completing university. The research is the largest longitudinal graduate study of Australia and observes graduates’ satisfaction with their course, as well as several aspects of their employment.

  • HEGESCO Project. 2007. “HEGESCO: The project.” Ljubljana, Slovenia: HEGESCO.

    These three follow-up international projects used one questionnaire in up to sixteen countries. The HEGESCO project addresses questions concerning competences required by graduates and about how institutions can contribute to their further development. The main results include a report on the large-scale graduate survey as well as a qualitative analysis of higher education institutions and methodological recommendations for stakeholders. The HEGESCO database, combined with prior CHEERS and REFLEX projects, presents one of the largest graduate employability surveys worldwide. Successor of CHEERS and REFLEX projects.

  • iPal. 2019. “International collaborative for performance assessment of learning in higher education: Research and development.” Mainz: Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

    The international project focuses on direct measures of generic skills such as critical thinking, analytical reasoning, or problem solving. These skills are measured by performance assessments, which means complex tasks that simulate real life as closely as possible and ask test takers to make decisions and judgments in the simulated situations and then to justify them. The aim of iPal is reliable scores for individual test takers.

  • KoKoHs. 2018. “Modeling and measuring competencies in higher education.” Mainz: KOKOHS.

    KoKoHS is an international network, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. It consists of several international research projects. The aim of the interdisciplinary network is to model and validate measurements for competences in higher education, with a focus on quantitative methods, including qualitative data as well. Some of the published results can be found in the section Higher Education Graduate Outcomes.

  • LEGACY. 2018. “Learning and employability gain assessment community roject (LEGACY Project): Measuring learning gain in higher education.” Warwick: LEGACY.

    The Learning and Employability Gain Assessment CommunitY is a consortium of eighteen Russell Group universities conducting projects in order to identify core dimensions of learning gain. The project aims to measure the impact of interventions and the efficacy of several measurement methods. LEGACY is one of the most recent approaches in measuring and evaluating learning gain.

  • SABER TE. Systems approach for better education results. Washington, DC: World Bank.

    The systems approach for better education results is a World Bank initiative aiming to produce comparable data and knowledge on education for evidence-based policy, with one accent on tertiary education. It involves 130 countries: with a high participation rate from countries in Africa and Asia. The project focuses primarily on economic growth, a goal not necessarily shared by every educator.

  • VALUE 2014. “VALUE: What is VALUE?.” Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

    VALUEs rubrics include a set of students’ learning outcomes, including categories like intellectual and practical skills, personal and social responsibility, and integrative and applied learning. Numerous expert teams identified and clarified rubrics of essential learning outcomes. They developed a qualitative and comprehensive framework of sixteen rubrics.

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