Innovations that Inspire

University of California Northridge

California State University, Northridge, David Nazarian College of Business and Economics

Category: Strengthening the Understanding of Effective Leadership Development

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States
Accreditation Status: Business

Innovation Statement

The David Nazarian College has created a large-scale automated follow-up system that provides benchmarks on student earnings, employment, and industry over a 10-year period.

Call to Action

More than previous generations, today’s students and parents want to make sure that a college education will lead to career success. The ability of a business college and a university to show the value of a degree in terms of career success is crucial to maintaining the college’s or campus’s reputation and brand value. Public universities are also challenged by policymakers and the public to show how they contribute to the state or regional economy.

Historically, higher education has used national data to show the value of a degree. They have also employed anecdotes to show the success of their graduates and their contribution to the economy. But the public and policymakers are no longer satisfied with stories of successful alumni; they want empirical evidence of success and impact. In today’s environment, the public and policymakers are skeptical of higher education claims. The recent Higher Education Scorecard released by the U.S. Department of Education shows how aggressively policymakers are moving to hold higher education accountable.

These challenges are particularly acute in California, where an ongoing budget crisis has led to rapid increases in tuition, which has led to vigorous questioning of the value of public universities in the state. At the same time, immigration, rapid shifts in the structure of the state’s economy, and continuing technological changes have raised questions about universities’ and particularly business schools’ ability to meet the demands of the contemporary labor market.

Innovation Description

This innovation follows the labor market outcomes of 95,000 California State University Northridge (CSUN) students (20,000 business students) to exceed government efforts in providing better, more detailed, longer-term labor market outcome measures on students. It also measures the alignment of the campus, individual colleges, and programs with the economy. The system merges transcript records with the California Base-wage File (part of the Unemployment Insurance System) to track student earnings and identify their industry of employment.

Students are followed for 10 years. Their inflation-adjusted earnings and industry of employment are tracked quarter by quarter and then aggregated into useable measures. This innovation was built around five principles: (1) follow all matriculated students over time; (2) use standard existing data sources available to every state so the system can be replicated and be inexpensive to operate; (3) create standard, easily understood measures; (4) disaggregate data to program level to allow comparison of different majors, undergraduate, and graduate students, etc.; and (5) make results publicly available.

To analyze student labor market experience, researchers put all students into one of six paths that account for 100 percent of entering students. Success Stories is for students who graduate with a BS only; Other People’s Children is for students who started at CSUN and graduated at a different institution; Problem Children are those who never graduate from anywhere; Stars are students who completed a graduate degree at another institution; Graduate Completers represent students who enrolled as graduate students and completed a degree; and Graduate Drops is for students who enrolled as graduate students and left without completing a degree.


The project has released two waves of data (available on the campus Institutional Research Website). The data have been used in the following ways:

  • for program review and accreditation self-studies;
  • for the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics 2014 AACSB review to show the impact of the college on students and the local economy;
  • in federal grant proposals to show the quality of programs and how the campus aligns with various target industries;
  • currently in a campus economic impact study;
  • in government relations and lobbying efforts to show the value the campus produces for the economy;
  • to help faculty development at the campus and college level; and
  • perhaps most importantly, to help students choose a major, decide if going on to graduate school is worth the cost, and understand the industries they are likely to work in if they choose a particular major.

Finally, this project is part of a national dialog. A paper describing the project’s approach has been published by the UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education. The model has been presented at the California Association of Institutional Research. The project team is working with the California State University Chancellor’s Office to explore how working while enrolled affects graduation rates, time to degree, and earnings after graduation, and how to expand the project to all 23 California State University campuses.