Outcomes Data and Data-Based Decisions for the Department of Wildland Resources
As described in the WILD Assessment Plan, there are several aspects to our ongoing assessment of degree programs. Our outcomes and responding actions are outlined below:
Ongoing accreditation by professional societies
Our Rangeland Resources and Forestry degrees are currently accredited by the Society for Range Management and the Society of American Foresters. These degrees are the only ones currently accredited by these professional societies in the state, and our Rangeland Resources degree is one of only 11 accredited by SRM worldwide. The Wildlife Society does not have an accreditation system for academic programs but it does have a rigorous system for the professional certification of individuals, and the Department’s undergraduate major in Wildlife Sciences fully equips students to achieve this certification. There is no professional society associated with the Conservation and Restoration degree.
Based on input described in our Assessment Plan from students, accrediting societies, employers, alumni, and faculty, the WILD degrees were restructured in 2013-2015. Changes include the following:
- In response to feedback from faculty, employers, students and alumni, we now require a WILD 1800, Introduction to Geographic Information Systems, for all undergraduate degrees except Interdisciplinary Studies and General Studies. This course provides students with specific computational and analytical skills that are sought by employers and needed in virtually all natural resource careers.
- Feedback from faculty, employers, students and alumni indicated that our curriculum lacked field experience and some practical field and lab skills. We created and now require WILD 2400, Wildland Resource Techniques, for all undergraduate degrees except Interdisciplinary Studies and General Studies. This course introduces students to field and laboratory techniques for collecting and analyzing field data.
- Our faculty and staff advisors noted that undergraduate students often misunderstand the quantitative and scientific nature and the breadth of natural resources degrees. This message was reinforced by students in our WILD 2000 course (NR Professional Orientation). As a result, we reconstructed WILD 2000 in conjunction with similar courses in other QCNR Departments. WILD/NR 2000 is now required for all majors in the college, includes exposure to all College degrees, and includes field activities.
- The federal standards for Wildlife Biology positions require that students take 9 credit hours of botany. Faculty and staff advisors noted that this requirement was sometimes difficult for our students to meet because most of our botany-related courses are not specifically plant-focused. Both employers and alumni indicated that botany is an important skill. In response to these concerns, we reorganized several courses in order to offer two new courses which were specifically plant-focused: WILD 3820 Forest Plants and WILD 3830 Range Plant Taxonomy and Function. One or both of these courses are now required for all WILD undergraduate majors. Both courses involve extensive fieldwork, in response to the concerns in 2) above.
- Students and advisors expressed concerns that the recommended DSS (Depth Social Science) and CI (Communications Intensive) courses in our curricula were difficult to work into Wildlife Science class schedules and that there was a need for a broader menu of courses dealing with human dimensions. In response to these concerns we expanded the menus of courses in Wildlife Science to include ENVS 4000, SOC 4620, SOC 3610, and APEC 3012 (human dimensions menu), and also added WATS 3100 (CI) (organismal course menu).
In order to add flexibility to the organismal menu of courses, we also added WILD 5560 Applied Avian Ecology and WATS 4650 Principles in Fishery Management.
- Instructors in expressed concerns that students were underprepared in statistical concepts, even when statistics was a course prerequisite. In addition, advisors expressed concerns that many students left the program or required additional semesters because they were postponing MATH 1100/MATH 1210 (Calculus). In response to this concern, and in consultation with faculty in the Mathematics and Statistics Department, we changed our degree requirement for statistics from STAT 2000 to STAT 3000. The latter is a more science-based course which is more relevant to courses for which statistics is a prerequisite. Further, STAT 3000 requires calculus as a prerequisite, which forces students to take calculus earlier in their programs and to accelerate their math requirements. The impacts of this change are being monitored.
Based on feedback from students, alumni, and employers, we have entered into agreements with federal, state, and municipal entities to provide more internship opportunities for WILD students. We have been able to offer 10 internships to WILD students in the summers of 2014 and 2015, and the feedback from employers and students has been extremely positive. Additionally, our advising office has established a specific interview day for these internships in the Spring semester, and works with students on interview skills and resume preparation in advance of this date.
The AAA Graduating Student Survey in 2013-14 indicated that 56 % of the degrees granted by QCNR were from WILD. The Career Services Graduate Survey data for 2013-2014, based on 19 WILD respondents within a year after graduation, indicates that 69% of our graduates were employed and 16% were continuing their education (total 85%). The average salary during this first year post-graduation was $34,640 (BS), $38,600 (MS), and $45,000 (PhD). Compared to students from other colleges, WILD respondents were more likely to be employed or continuing their education than in any other college except the Huntsman School of Business. We consider these to be outstanding indicators of success.
From an assessment perspective, the Wildland Resources Department considers the Quinney College of Natural Resources Education and Employment Survey to be one of the more important surveys we conduct because it focuses on one of the University’s most important outcome measures - student success in finding jobs and being accepted into graduate programs. Recent graduates are highly mobile and it can be difficult to locate them but a concerted effort is made to contact as many of our graduates as possible. In May 2008, the Department of Wildland Resources conducted a telephone survey for students who received bachelor’s degrees during the 2007-08 Academic Year. Results are available here. The salient results from this survey are:
- The Wildland Resources Department awarded 30 degrees during this time period and 93% of Employment/Education surveys were completed which is a very high rate for a telephone survey.
- During this time period, when asked if the student was currently continuing his/her education, 36% responded “yes”.
- Graduates continuing their education were asked to name the school they were attending and as would be expected, USU was the most frequently reported choice.
- Of the students indicating they were not full-time students, 16 already had a full-time job, and 2 were seasonal. Although some students may choose to work in areas outside of their discipline, as a general rule, the Wildland Resources students pick majors because they expect to work in that field. As a result, of the 18 students that had full-time/seasonal jobs, 14 indicated that the job was directly related to their degree, 3 somewhat related, and 1 not related.
- In evaluating the effect of state resources used for higher education, the issue of where graduates take full-time jobs is relevant. Students who remain in the State of Utah add human capital to the state’s work force and contribute to the tax base of the state. Interestingly, out of our 18 employed graduated students, 9 were employed in the state of Utah and 9 out-of-state. Graduates from the Wildland Resources Department were most likely to be employed in the public sector.
- Obtaining numbers on starting salaries for recent graduates proved to be a difficult task. Students or their spouses are often reluctant to provide this information and relatives who may have been contacted as part of the survey may not know. It was anticipated that this part of the survey data would be less complete than other information collected and the forecast proved to be generally correct. However, a surprising proportion of the survey contacts were willing and able to provide salary data, allowing us to identify the starting salary range of recent graduates with full-time jobs; these ranged from a low of $1,200/month to a high of $3,360/month, with 1 graduate doing unpaid volunteer work.
The first implementation of the revised QCNR Education and Employment survey in 2014 included responses from 18 respondents (38%).
The survey included groups of students who graduated 2 years and 5 years previously:
* 12 employed
8 with federal/state agencies
2 in the private sector
9 satisfied or highly satisfied with their job
3 dissatisfied with some aspect of their job
5 $25-40k, 3 $40-55K, 2 $55-70K, 1 $70-85K, 1 over $8
* 3 are in a MS or PhD program
* 3 are seeking employment
* Aspects of the program respondents listed as especially valuable:
skills developed in coursework (12)
networking in courses or clubs (13)
club activities (9)
others listed UTFs, relevant seasonal employment, undergrad research grants, and faculty/administrative support.
* Aspects respondents wish had been more a part of the program:
GIS (3), writing and other communication skills (4), NEPA (2), more hands-on, real-world experience (3), more contact with future employers (4), statistics & data analysis (2), plant taxonomy, fisheries, OPMs, resume prep, help finding jobs and understanding hiring process (3)
We noted that our curriculum changes (above) had already addressed most of these issues, suggesting that our existing assessment and outcomes processes are effective. Remaining issues will be discussed at the next WILD faculty retreat.