20 Metrics in 20 Days- Day 8: Educational Attainment

Day 8 in our series of 20 consecutive posts on HR metrics: Educational Attainment


Educational Attainment is the simply the level of education completed for employees.

The granularity of the categories can vary, but they typically look something like this:

  1. Some high school
  2. Completed high school
  3. Some college
  4. Associates degree
  5. Bachelor’s degree
  6. Master’s degree (non-MBA)
  7. MBA
  8. JD (law degree)
  9. PhD
  10. MD

Why You Should Care

Level of educational attainment has a major impact on lifelong earnings and typically impacts one’s ability to move up the ranks of an organization. While we can debate the merits of this broad relationship (see References) and the underlying causes of differences in educational attainment, there is simply no denying its impact.

Knowing what the educational attainment of your workforce looks like is important for at least two reasons.

First, it can help you guide and navigate potentially sensitive development conversations. For example, knowing that 90% of those at director-level positions have an advanced degree will help provide valuable input to those seeking to move up the ladder.

In addition, knowing that in practice there is a hard educational cutoff for leadership positions can motivate a discussion of promotion practices and whether those implicit rules around education level make sense for the company.

Additional Considerations

It goes without saying that you should plot your data, not just look at the tables.

You should also be open to grouping categories together for some of your analyses (e.g. treat Masters and above as a single category). In many cases you will otherwise end up with just a handful of people in a given category and the analyses really won’t make sense.

Regardless, I would suggest the following kinds of comparisons to better understand the impact and distribution of education level at your organization.

  • Proportion of Bachelors and Masters degrees (or higher) X area
  • Proportion of Bachelors and Masters degree (or higher) X hierarchy
  • Educational attainment X performance ratings
  • Educational attainment X retention or turnover rate buckets


Any action depends on what you find and what you find to be important. The following provides just a few ideas to get the ideas and conversations started:

  • Revisit your promotion process and the roles of objective performance v. perception of performance based on the degree alone
  • Examine your recruitment strategies to make sure you are targeting the right populations given your quantified relationship between education and performance
  • Provide financial support for those seeking more education, particularly for those areas that directly impact the business (e.g. computer science, management, or finance)
  • Consider your workforce planning strategy in the context of the education levels your business needs for success.

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