Jo Ann Deasy, Director of Institutional Initiatives and Student Research for the ATS, recently presented data from the 2020-2021 Graduating Student Questionnaire (GSQ). Here are some highlights if you missed it.

A little background: More than half of ATS schools used the GSQ last year (141 out of 275 schools), and 5,074 graduating students (32%) completed it. Do these 5,000 students represent the larger group of all graduating students? For comparison, Deasy compared the degree programs of GSQ respondents to data from the 2020 Annual Report. The percentage of MDiv graduates and DMin graduates is close – within 4%. The big difference seems to be in the MA Professional degrees (only 13% of those who completed the GSQ earned a professional MA compared to 22% of all graduates) and the “All Other” degree category (15% in the GSQ but 6% of all graduates).

It’s also important to note that several revisions were made to the questionnaire for 2020, primarily in the questions that gathered demographic information. For example, the questionnaire shifted focus away from citizenship to ask about student status. Graduates are no longer asked whether they have U.S., Canadian, or other citizenship. Instead, they are asked if they are domestic or international students.

There were also changes made to the options under race and ethnicity, better aligning the GSQ with how students understand themselves.

Particularly important for schools dealing with the pandemic and rethinking educational delivery methods, the revised GSQ also includes new questions about educational context: Did you take any courses at a campus or extension site? Did you take any courses that were mostly or completely online while in this program? How often were you at a campus or extension site for most of your courses? And, Did you use campus housing?

The data shows that 63% of respondents took a combination of online and in-person classes. Only 14% of these graduates took classes only on campus, while 23% completed their degrees entirely online. When asked how much time they spent on campus, 51% said they were on campus weekly.

The GSQ also asks graduating students about their finances, and the new data is promising. Comparing GSQ responses from 2015, the average borrower’s debt decreased by $4,280 (12%). While 15% more respondents reported not borrowing at all for their education.

When asked about how their degree programs prepared them for their chosen vocations (broken down into five areas), the numbers are all high, between 4.2 and 4.6 (where 4 = “effective,” and 5 = “very effective”). The questionnaire also asks about how well schools do facilitating personal growth. Again, averages were 4 above, except for “ability to pray,” which was a 3.8.

The final section of the presentation looked at vocational goals: Where do students plan to look for work? (Congregational ministry continues to be a leader here at 56%.) What other credentials will they seek? How many expect to work part-time in ministry or volunteer? Who has already been offered a position?

Looking at school profile data, in 2010 only half of the schools had placement. That has slowly increased to above 60% now.

There’s a lot more to learn from the GSQ data than shared here, particularly looking at how the data break out by the different demographic groups. You can watch the webinar here.  

And for more information on the ATS’s student questionnaires, check out the website here

– By Matt Forster, posted Sept. 29, 2021