Dropping out does not pay off

The latest data from the Polish Graduate Tracking System (ELA) suggests that degrees are highly valued in the labour market. Graduates often have more professional experience, are less likely to become unemployed, and enjoy comparable or even higher incomes than those without degrees. The latest ELA updates also illustrate the careers and educational circumstances of students, describe the professional activities and education paths of PhD candidates, and support higher education institutions in their efforts  to be included in international rankings. The new ELA functionalities are available to the public free of charge as of 24 November, 2022.

Degrees matter

Acting on behalf of the Polish Ministry of Education and Science, the National Information Processing Institute (OPI) has introduced new functionalities to ELA. New data confirms that degrees are highly valued in the labour market. According to the system’s information on the students who commenced their studies in first- or second-cycle programmes in 2016, graduates have more professional experience than dropouts.

‘The latest ELA data suggests that being completing your studies is highly rewarding. Dropping out may be profitable initially, but doesn’t pay off in the long run. According to ELA’s latest data, students who pursued first-cycle programmes and obtained their degrees earn almost twice as much after their third and fourth year of studies—depending on their majors—than those who dropped out of higher education institutions,’ says Dr Przemysław Czarnek, the Polish Minister of Education and Science. ‘The newest updates to the ELA system also support all Polish higher education institutions that apply to be included in prestigious international rankings. Experts at OPI have prepared the necessary data in the form of integrated indicators that are ready to be included in ranking forms. The algorithms used to design the indicators have been consulted with the entities that are responsible for the rankings. The positions of Polish institutions in such rankings not only reflect their renown, but also stimulate international scientific exchange,’ adds Dr Czarnek.

‘ELA, is one of the most popular systems produced by OPI, alongside POL-on, RAD-on, and the NAVOICA education platform. We are proud to have developed it and we are glad to add new functionalities that serve the academic community, higher education institutions, education policy makers, and labour market experts. The newest updates demonstrate that degrees are valued highly, and that students should invest their time and effort in academic pursuits. Graduates are not only better paid, but are also less likely to become unemployed,’ says Dr Jarosław Protasiewicz, Head of OPI.

First-cycle graduates’ impressive performance in the labour market is evidenced by their relative unemployment (RUR) and relative earnings (RER) rates. Despite first-cycle graduates being more exposed to unemployment in the two years following their graduation, the RUR of this group is markedly lower than that of dropouts in the third and consecutive years. The RER for graduates is higher even in the first year following their graduation; in the third and fourth years, graduates earn almost twice as much as dropouts.

‘Less significant differences could be observed among individuals who pursued second-cycle programmes—although graduates remained better positioned. Although the risk of unemployment in that group is higher in the first year following graduation, it lowers considerably during the second year. In the first three years following graduation, graduates’ and dropouts’ earnings are similar; in the fourth year, however, graduates earn slightly more than those who discontinued their studies,’ says Dr Mikołaj Jasiński, an expert at OPI.

Dropouts are more likely to face unemployment

As far as the first-cycle graduates and dropouts are concerned, the risk of becoming unemployed by domain of study is substantially lower among graduates—particularly in the third and consecutive years following graduation.

‘Similar tendencies were observed among students of second-cycle programmes. The risk of becoming unemployed is lower for graduates by the second or third year following graduation. Exceptions to this general rule include the arts, and the exact and natural sciences,’ says Dr Marek Bożykowski, an expert at OPI.

Graduates earn more

Graduates of first-cycle programmes earn more than first-cycle dropouts over time; no significant differences were observed, however, between second-cycle graduates and second-cycle dropouts. First-cycle graduates with degrees in almost any domain earn more than first-cycle dropouts in the first and consecutive years after graduation/dropout. An exception to this rule is the arts—a domain in which the earnings of both groups are similar. In the majority of domains, the earnings of second-cycle graduates and second-cycle dropouts are similar; in medical and health sciences, however, graduates earn considerably more than dropouts. It should also be noted that second-cycle dropouts already hold first-cycle degrees. This means that they have already obtained some tertiary education, which the labour market values more highly than secondary education.

The prestige of higher education institutions matters

‘The data also suggests that, in some respects, individuals who discontinue their education at the most prestigious universities perform better in the labour market than graduates. It is important to note, however, that the monitoring period is rather short, and those who drop out of university to pursue more profitable jobs typically fare well in the early years of their careers. Although they have failed to obtain degrees, they rely on the prestige of their higher education institutions and the knowledge and skills acquired during their studies,’ says Dr Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak of Warsaw School of Economics, an expert at OPI.

New ELA functionalities

The autumn ELA improvements focus on three areas: descriptions of the professional and educational circumstances of students, descriptions of the professional activities and education paths of doctoral students, and information support for higher education institutions that aspire to be included in international rankings.  The autumn changes add new reports that concentrate on students’ professional activities. They comprise three sections. The first contains information on students’ activities in the labour market by year of study. The second is devoted to the labour market factors that shape students’ education paths. The indicators that describe students’ activities in the labour market are presented for academic years in which particular education paths were modified. The third section of the report compares the achievements of graduates and dropouts on the labour market. The professional activity indicators presented in this section enable comparisons between the early careers of graduates and dropouts.

The characteristics of the education paths of doctoral students and their activity on the labour market during the preparation of their dissertations supplement ELA’s description of the academic community. Two types of report are made available in the new section: ‘Education paths of doctoral students’ and ‘Professional activity of doctoral students’. The reports present the results on four levels: national, of particular education domains in Poland, of particular institutions that deliver education to PhD candidates, and of particular education domains seen from the perspective of such institutions.

To support higher education institutions in their efforts to be included in international rankings, experts at OPI also provide the necessary information in the form of integrated indicators that can be used directly in ranking forms. The seventh edition of ELA provides indicators that are used by the three most recognisable international rankings: the Shanghai Ranking (Global Research University Profiles); the QS World University Rankings and the QS Graduate Employability Ranking; and U-Multirank.

The Polish Graduate Tracking System (ELA)

ELA is developed and maintained by OPI on behalf of the Polish Ministry of Education and Science. It provides reliable information on the circumstances of graduates of Polish higher education institutions on the labour market. It relies on data that has been gathered in public registers. ELA imports information from POL-on, another system developed by OPI, and uses data collected by the Polish Social Insurance Institution (ZUS). The latest data pertains to the graduates of 2020 and covers at least twelve months of professional activity following graduation (up to December 2021)—a time in which graduates often gain their first experiences of work. All data processed by the system is anonymised. Appropriate security mechanisms have also been implemented. The system is innovative and user-friendly. It generates reports, rankings and infographics to satisfy users’ needs. A free-of-charge mobile version of the system is also available. ELA is funded by the Polish Ministry of Education and Science.