Who cares where you go after graduate school, or after your postdoc? You may think no one cares, but in fact a lot of people do (see, for example, responses to the PhD Placement Project).
There is a huge movement right now in the US to track graduates. There is the thought that tracking placement rates will help shed light on questions such as how many people are staying in academic careers, and how many are not. What other careers are graduates going into? Who is “dropping out” of the workforce and why?
Some of the problems I imagine schools are grappling with: (1) what if tracking people will show that my institution/program is not doing a good job? (2) where should we keep the data? Who should have access to it? Are there privacy issues? (3) considering the first two issues, wouldn’t it require a lot of manpower? And could we even get everyone?
These are all good questions. Let’s address the last first. There is a professor, Dr. Dean Savage from Queens College (part of CUNY), who has been tracking down Sociology graduates from 1971 to current. This is one guy, doing this in his own time, because he thinks it is important. Of course, he hasn’t tracked down everyone (even in today’s hyper-connected world, there are still people that don’t have much of an online presence). But, as the point is made in the comments in the Chronicle article about his efforts, what about the alumni donations department? They seem to know where everyone is.
Next are privacy issues. Yes, there may be some privacy issues, but you can get around these in two ways: either gather only publicly available data (like what Dr. Savage is doing), or get people to agree to being tracked. If you are going to try and reach people who do not have online profiles with their careers listed, you probably have to call them anyway, which means you easily ask them for their permission to be tracked. Maybe they agree to be tracked in the aggregate, but they don’t want their personal data getting out, which is probably what your release form says anyway. Of course, the forms would have to be kept somewhere, but Universities are good at capturing and keeping this kind of information anyway – for other research studies. I just don’t see this being a big barrier.
Finally, the big #1 question: are schools afraid of what they will find if they track? Maybe they are afraid, but I don’t think they should be. There are certain schools that have great placement rates and some that don’t. The most important response to this question is to know that heads can’t be hidden in the sand much longer. Even if you are afraid of what you might find, it is best to start as soon as you can.
Schools need to act now to get ahead of any requirements to post tracking results online and make them publicly available. For example, in Obama’s College Affordability Plan, one of its three central tenets is to “pay colleges and students for performance” by developing a college ratings system for comparing value among schools. Financial aid from the government would be tied to the ratings system, which would include things like graduate rates and other outcomes.
Schools should really be trying to get ahead of the curve and start figuring out now if they have any issues, because change is coming whether they like it or not.