It Never Pays to Dodge the Media

Tags

, ,

Back when I was a kid, my daddy would often ask me what I was doing or, most often in my case, what I was up to. If my big, 240-lb., 6’3″ oil field roughneck of a daddy didn’t get an answer that rang true pretty doggone quickly, he’d be up investigating in short order. I learned not to dodge my big daddy. Folks shouldn’t be dodging the big daddy of watchdogs, the media, either, or they’ll likely find a reporter or two sniffing around in short order, as well. Although over an innocuous-enough issue, I hope that Texas State Technical College Marshall learned not to dodge Big Daddy’s queries after a recent brush with the media.

In this case, the Longview News-Journal was simply doing a broad-brush story on area colleges’ enrollment numbers and TSTC Marshall refused to provide any information. The story, titled “Most East Texas Colleges See Spring Enrollment Increases,” mentioned nine institutions and provided their spring enrollment numbers from 2011 through 2015. It was nothing but a matter-of-fact article seeking to inform the public and even gave administrators a chance to comment. Even so, this is what the article said about TSTC Marshall:

Texas State Technical College declined to provide spring enrollment numbers for 2015 or any of the past five years. The News-Journal has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the information.

That’s like trying to avoid attention by pulling a fire alarm. Mental alarms were no doubt going off all over East Texas.

So, instead of having an obscure paragraph buried way down in a relatively disinterested article, TSTC Marshall got its own headline and accompanying story, albeit a short one, a little later when the promised Freedom of Information Act (more likely a Texas Public Information Act) request produced the information the Longview reporter had asked for in the first place. Please see “TSTC Marshall Sees Slight Increase in Spring Enrollment.”

OK. So TSTC Marshall isn’t setting the Piney Woods on fire in terms of enrollment, but its enrollment is up over last year’s spring term. It’s down quite a bit from spring 2011 when it had 915 enrolled. Still, I don’t think the college made any points by trying to dodge the question. It’s just too easy to get information from public institutions, and, besides, when a spokesperson provides information to the media forthrightly, the aforesaid spokesperson can also add context (spin?) to the numbers.

I’m thinking the public relations people over there need an attitude adjustment. Just like when I was a kid, when Big Daddy asks a question, you’re going to answer or, if not, answer for it.

Advertisements

Placement Rate Still Mentioned Now and Then

Tags

, , , , , ,

Old habits die hard, I guess, if the placement statistic offered in an 11/14/2014 story in The Brownsville Herald is any indication. This is the first mention I’ve seen of that much misunderstood placement rate in quite a while, this time uttered by TSTC Harlingen’s interim president, one Stella Garcia, to wit:

“We want to make sure we continue on the path of success we’re on right now,” TSTC Interim President Stella Garcia said. “We have a 95 percent job placement rate and students come to TSTC because they know they’ll get a job after graduation. We want to continue to move forward the next 50 years and get as close to 100 percent as possible and continue with that legacy of success.”

Prospective students reading that 95% may have thought, and quite naturally so, that Ms. Garcia meant that 95% of grads or completers got jobs in their TSTC field of study. Nope. That 95% includes jobs in the field, out of the field, full-time, part-time, people who go into the military, and even people who transfer to another college. Read “Technical College Placement Rates Gradually Going Away in Media? to get a more detailed explanation, complete with documentation, of how those placement rates are figured. Oh, and “placement” sounds like such an active endeavor by an institution, doesn’t it? Sadly enough, all grads and completers have to do is show up in a database to count, whether a college had anything to do with helping them find jobs or “placing” them or not.

The good news is that officials are really starting to slow down on bandying about that misleading placement rate. They used to shout it out every chance they got like carnival barkers trying to hustle people into their tents. Now that I’m hearing less and less barking about those rates these days, I would expect fewer and fewer students to enroll with inflated expectations. In terms of the public good, that’s a very good thing.

Technical College Placement Rates Gradually Going Away in Media?

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

As this site’s regular visitors know, I’ve made a religion out of watching the state’s technical colleges and their placement claims, among other issues. I have to say that I am guardedly optimistic now, however, because I haven’t seen one of those public tech college high-percentage job placement claims (you know, the ones that included just about any job with no mention of “in the field of study” or “program-related” anywhere near them) in three or four months now. That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that there haven’t been some, but if they’re out there, my automated Google search hasn’t brought them to me. I suspect that TSTC’s new Returned Value Funding Model has a little to do with that since the way it and the state measure TSTC’s success is a little different nowadays.

In the past, before the new funding model, I most often heard something on the order of 90% or more of technical school graduates got “jobs.” As opposed to a media announcement or press release, that 90% is still on TSTC’s website:

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! On average, industry has more job openings than TSTC has graduates. TSTC boasts placement rates of more than 90 percent (based on departmental job placement activities).

Although the above excerpt says that 90% is “based on departmental job placement activities,”  the state, which figures those placement rates for all Texas higher ed institutions, doesn’t know the job title or position for any employee. The state knows where people work but not what they do there. Any TSTC grad’s job that turns up in the database counts as placed or as a success. The state doesn’t know if a webmaster grad working for Dairy Queen is building websites or ice cream cones. (Click on the highlighted text to see a discussion of the Unemployment Insurance database and its weaknesses. The discussion arose because it was being considered for yet another use it wasn’t designed for, the TSTC Returned Value Funding Model.) Since the state does the figuring, and since just about any job counts for placement, a 90% employment rate is about average for everyone, even community colleges, whose primary mission is to pump kids into four-year colleges. Why is it average across the state? It’s run of the mill because people go to work doing something sooner or later, whether they graduate or not or whether they go to work in their field of study or not.

Click on the images below to enlarge screen shots from queries I just did on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Texas Higher Education Accountability website. Both community college academic and community college technical students come dangerously close to the 90% or more touted by public technical colleges here in Texas. Even the academic success rate is just over one percentage point away from that mystical 90%, and the technical rate is within half a point in 2012. And just check out the previous years when community college technical AND academic students topped 90%. Remember, this is just the average. Plenty of individual community colleges have success rates of over 90%.

Statewide Community College Technical Student Success Rate 2004-2012

Statewide Community College Technical Student Success Rate 2004-2012

Statewide Community College Success Rate 2004-2012

Statewide Community College Academic Success Rate 2004-2012

Now let’s compare those numbers to public technical college performance over the years:

Public Technical College Statewide and Individual Performance 2004-2012

Public Technical College Statewide and Individual Performance 2004-2012

So, historically, tech colleges have made an awful lot of hoopla about very little difference, percentage-wise, between their rates and community college rates, but, hey, that 90% sure sounds good when folks hearing it don’t compare it to anything or anyone else, eh?

Now, with its new Returned Value Funding Model, the Texas State Technical College (other tech colleges & community colleges don’t have this funding method yet), with campuses around the state, is being funded based on graduate earnings, whether grads work in the field studied or not. In a story titled “How Do Technical College Grads Fare in the Job Market? It’s Complicated,” the Texas Observer features a TSTC official citing a 60% increase in salary for TSTC grads since 2009. That 60% sure sounds good, but so did that 90% success rate until I started digging around and compared performance between colleges. The problem now is that I’ve got nothing to compare that 60% earnings increase to. I don’t know if the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has any such statistics for other technical and community colleges.

Here’s the bottom line: I want to see what the Lamar Institute of Technology’s and other institutions in the technical college cohort’s salary increases, if any, are since 2009. If LIT’s and other institutions’ rates are close to TSTC’s even without the new funding model, then the public is likely being fed a line. If it’s well below TSTC’s, then TSTC is likely onto something. After seeing tech colleges’ pound their chests over utterly average placement or “success” rates, I need to see comparative data before I can join the state’s happy dance over this new measurement. Meanwhile, I’m happy to see less and less of that chest pounding over what turned out to be just average placement results.

Texas Observer on TSTC Placement Rates

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Texas Observer reporter Patrick Michels does a great job of discussing both sides of the placement claim issue in this 9/16/2014 article titled “How Do Technical College Grads Fare in the Job Market? It’s Complicated.”  For my money, the bottom line in this article is that nobody really knows the percentage of grads who get jobs related to their technical field of study. Here’s a revealing excerpt:

TSTC System Vice Chancellor Eliska Smith is familiar with these sorts of charges. But the truth, she says, is that there’s no systemic way to know which jobs are truly training-related. Unemployment insurance data doesn’t track graduates who leave Texas [and] is prone to broad generalities that could accidentally list a graduate as working outside their field of training.

This is worth repeating: “there’s no systemic way to know which jobs are truly training-related.”

There you have it, sports fans. Keep that statement in mind the next time you hear some gargantuan employment rate or percentage of grads who have jobs. The  jobs cranked into those percentages could be just about anywhere doing just about anything.

Placements Rates on TSTC Colleges’ Websites vs. State Data

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Way back a few presidents ago, President Ronald Reagan once famously said, “Trust, but verify,” during the height of the Cold War. While he was talking about nuclear warheads and our enemies’ capabilities, “trust, but verify” isn’t a bad philosophy for higher education institutions either. Accordingly, let’s take a gander at what the colleges in the Texas State Technical College System are saying about their student placement, and then let’s take a look at the state data, much of which, by the way, is provided to the state by the colleges.

Of course, to do that, we’re going to need some source data, so please open the link contained in the highlighted text to get to the TSTC System placement web page that, in turn, has links to each of its four major colleges’ individual placement rates.  Once you get there, take a look at what TSTC Harlingen says its various programs’ placement rates are by clicking on the link for Harlingen. Now, when you click on that link, you don’t go to another web page. Instead, it’s just a little harder to get to. You have to download a PDF document. Go ahead and click on the link, though, and then select “open with Adobe Acrobat 9.5.” The Harlingen site’s placement PDF document should come up. Take careful note that Harlingen, as indicated in the heading of the document, is providing results for the 2010-2011 academic year. Here’s what I got when I downloaded it. (Note that the second page is missing from the image below. Download the PDF as outlined above to view it.) Click on the image to enlarge it.

TSTC Harlingen Placement Report for 2010-2011 Posted on the College Website

TSTC Harlingen Placement Report for 2010-2011 Posted on the College Website

Next, open the link in the following highlighted text to open the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Automated Student and Adult Learner Follow-up System (ASALFS) web page. This site is interactive, meaning you’ll have to make some selections to get at the data you want. Now, under “ASALFS Results by Institution,” click on the drop-down arrow, scroll most of the way to the bottom of the list and select “TEXAS STATE TECHNICAL COLLEGE – HARLINGEN.” Next, under “Select a Report Year,” select 2010-2011 (to match the year on the placement report TSTC Harlingen provides on its website) and click on “View PDF.” TSTC Harlingen’s state-generated ASALFS results should come right up.

While readers are certainly welcome to compare every figure Harlingen provides with the numbers the state provides, I picked one more or less at random, “AUT” or, as the Texas Higher Ed Board calls it on its site, “Automobile/Automotive Mechanics Technology/Technician,” and took a hard look. (“More or less at random” means I had to pass over a couple of technologies that I didn’t even know what the abbreviation stood for. I wonder how many visitors can identify all of those technology abbreviations. Prospective students?) The results of that look are instructive and bear out President Reagan’s admonition to verify.

TSTC Harlingen ASALFS Report 2010-2011, page 3 of 8 pages

TSTC Harlingen ASALFS Report 2010-2011, page 3 of 8 pages

Now that we have our source data downloaded from both Harlingen and the state, let’s begin our comparison by examining the report we obtained from Harlingen’s website. The college’s claim regarding its automotive technology graduates is straightforward enough: 23 in the graduates column and 23 in the success column for a 100% “success” rate in the final column. There’s absolutely no explanation as to what constitutes a success.  My question to you, dear reader, is this: What will a kid looking to become an auto mechanic think when he or she sees that 100%?

Now let’s compare that unexplained 100% with what is in the state’s ASALFS report.

First off, note that we get some information not even hinted at on the report on Harlingen’s website: dropouts or “non-returners,” as they’re labeled. Of 92 total students, 69 of them dropped out. 69. Only 23 students, 25%, made it to graduation. That’s an important little stat right there. Almost 54% (30 of 56) of dental assistants made it to graduation. Almost 75% of students studying  Electromechanical Technology made it to graduation. On the other hand, less than 15% of those studying to be a Teacher Assistant/Aide made it all the way to graduation. If I were a prospective student, that would be something I would want to know before I signed up. Maybe it reflects on the students who signed up for the program; maybe it reflects on the program’s staff. I don’t know. I don’t have the data to even come up with a hypothesis. Regardless of the reason, a technology with a high dropout rate would make me a little nervous if I were thinking of registering. It’s a stat prospective students should know.

Now let’s look at those other figures provided by the state. All the way to the left in the graduate row, we see a “1” and “4.3%” under “Additional Higher Education and Not Employed.” Translation: the student transferred to another college. That counts as a success for TSTC Harlingen. Does that kid looking at Harlingen’s website and that 100% know that? Transfers’ counting as successes for academic students makes sense. While a significant part of a traditional community college’s mission is to prepare students for additional higher education at a four-year institution, I’m not so sure that the mission of an auto mechanic curriculum is to prepare students for more college. I believe any technology’s mission is to get students program-related jobs.

Now let’s look at the next category: “Employed and No Additional Higher Education.” In other words, those students showed up, studied, graduated, quit higher ed altogether, and got jobs. BUT WHAT KIND OF JOBS WERE THEY? Well, let’s take a look at the definitions on the ASALFS website:

EMPLOYED AND NO ADDITIONAL HIGHER EDUCATION
– Students found in the employment records as employed during the 2nd quarter following the program year in which they left postsecondary education and not enrolled in a Texas public higher education institution in that same Fall (sic).
 
 

 

Notice something missing from that definition? Yep, you guessed it. There’s no phrase like “employed in their field of study” or “employed in a program-related job” anywhere to be found. In short, dear reader, all students have to do is get “a job” full-time or part-time, and show up in a database the state monitors. Any job will do as long as they show up in that database. That’s why the dropouts in AUT have a higher employment rate (55.1%) than the graduates (47.8%). Any job doesn’t have to be in the technology at all. So a graduate could study AUT, fail to find a job as a mechanic, end up working on a TxDOT road crew slinging asphalt and still count and still be a TSTC Harlingen success. So now we know that 11 graduates got “a job” for a 47.8% employment rate under this column.

For those who might like to know more about the information contained in one of the state’s primary sources, the Unemployment Insurance or U/I database, I offer the link below. The U/I database is used to determine employment rates, although the discussion deals with using it for yet another purpose; nonetheless, the document, a Texas Comptroller letter dating back to 2010, points out what the database conspicuously does NOT contain: the occupations or job titles of the grads in the database. Any job that turns up there counts.

Page from 2010 Comptroller letter discussing the Texas Unemployment Insurance Database

(Go to the ASALFS definitions web page to see the other databases the state uses to compile employment numbers.)

So far we’ve got our 4.3% additional higher ed and not employed rate plus our 47.8% employed only rate for a subtotal of 52.1% on our way to Harlingen’s 100% success rate.

Moving on, let’s take in the next column: “Additional Higher Education and Employed.” Just like the title implies, these are students who moved on to another college AND are working. Do you know anyone who goes to college and works part-time at night at, say, a restaurant as a waiter? I do. Any job counts as long as they turn up in a database, just like the previous category. Here’s the state’s definition:

ADDITIONAL HIGHER EDUCATION AND EMPLOYED

– Students found to be both enrolled in a Texas public higher education institution in the Fall (sic) following a given academic year and employed via employment records.

 

Under this column, we can see that no AUT students decided to transfer to another college AND work somewhere at the same time. Some other technologies have pretty healthy percentages in this column (e.g., Teacher Assistant and Dental).

Moving on to the next column, we come to “Employed and/or Additional Higher Education.” This column merely aggregates the previous three (4.3% + 47.8% + 0 = 52.2%. (The numbers as they appear here add up to 52.1%, but apparently the state rounded up some numbers to the right of the decimal point that we can’t see in the online report.) Since it’s merely the sum of the previous three stats, this percentage, 52.2%, would normally be AUT’s success or placement rate for 2010-2011, but Harlingen was not going to let the stat in the next column, discussed below, get in the way of its quest for 100% “success.”

The next column, “Students Not Found,” is interesting. Just look at the 11 students, a whopping 47.8%, a figure just as large as those who got “a job,” that didn’t turn up in a database anywhere and nobody could find. But wait! The report on TSTC Harlingen’s website shows 100% for AUT. 100%! One can only assume that it is TSTC Harlingen’s assertion that it found all 11 of those students; otherwise, it would not be able to claim them in the college’s success rate. We’ll just have to take the college’s implied word in that regard, I guess. It’s possible.

Whether one accepts that last implication or not, it is my hope that visitors can see just how much critical information is left unsaid in the success rate on Harlingen’s site. How many people know that transfers to other colleges count as a success for technical students? How many know that getting “a job,” any job that ends up in a state-monitored database, counts as a success whether it’s in the field studied or out of the field, full-time or part-time?

As for the other TSTC colleges, Waco’s online report largely has the same faults that Harlingen’s does. Since Harlingen and Waco dwarf the other two colleges, TSTC West Texas and TSTC Marshall, that’s too bad for prospective technical students. Those students don’t have enough information to make an informed decision.

The good news is that West Texas and Marshall provide quite a bit more information online. For instance, TSTC Marshall actually shows fall 2013 numbers for  grads who got program-related jobs (53%) and who didn’t (25%). TSTC West Texas shows (2013 spring, summer, and fall semesters) 65% program-related employment and 11% not related. Good on Marshall and West Texas!  I don’t hear or see those numbers advertised, however; nonetheless, they are at least available on their websites.

As I’ve mentioned before, Texas requires private career colleges to reveal graduate rates, program-related employment rates, and placement rates. (See “TSTC Waco Alumni Survey’s Comments: Crying Need to Provide Program-Related Employment Info BEFORE Enrollment.”) Notably, the state does NOT allow private career schools to count grads as placed unless the schools actually have a hand in placing them. Just having grads turn up in a database isn’t good enough for private career schools to take the credit. Those requirements make great sense and are student-centered.

Is what the state allows public technical colleges to do student-centered? Is it? Whose interests are being served when what makes up these “placement” or “success” numbers is not revealed?

 

 

Moody’s Investors Service Downgrades the TSTC System from Stable to Negative

Tags

,

See the Moody’s website for information on this rather surprising development. An excerpt:

*The system’s expansion plans, including additional capacity for 1,300 students across two new locations, may pressure further operations as actual enrollment continues to fall short of management’s projections.

 *The pending shift to a purely performance based funding model in FY 2016 creates uncertainty about the stability and level of state funding, which currently represents half of operating revenue, as appropriations will be tied to the economic earnings differential for graduates.

The curious can read posts on this blog discussing falling enrollment for Waco and West Texas.

A discussion of the new funding model may be seen at this link.

It looks like the regents, the chancellor, the presidents, and a few CFOs have some work to do.

TSTC Harlingen Surgical Tech Chair Says All Grads Have “Jobs”

Tags

, , , , , ,

Recently, a Texas State Technical College Harlingen official made a couple of claims about his program’s graduates. Specifically, the chair of the college’s Surgical Technology Program had this to say in a 3/28/2014 Valley Morning Star story titled “Clinical Studies: Surgical Technology Program Places All Graduates in Jobs“:

Program chairman Robert Sanchez has been involved with the program for 33 years and said all graduates are placed in jobs and 95 percent of technicians working in Valley hospitals are TSTC graduates.

Not insignificantly, in view of the foregoing claims, the article goes on to say, “The ST Program is accepting applications through April 11 for new students who will begin classes this fall.” So, without specifying any particular year’s grads, “all graduates are placed in jobs.” Note also the passive verb structure in the sentence. The graduates don’t place themselves, but “are placed.” Implicitly, someone else does the placing, someone like TSTC Harlingen, perhaps? (While I believe that TSTC Harlingen does, indeed, have a hand in placing some grads, all that has to happen is a Social Security match in a state-monitored database for a grad to count as placed and the college, any Texas college, to take the credit.)

First, as I do every time I critique officials’ statements, please allow me to point out that oh-so-predictable omission in these people’s statements to the press: words like “program-related” don’t appear before the word “jobs,” nor do phrases like “in their field of study” appear after the word “jobs.” In other words, they got “a job.” It could be a job as a carhop at Sonic, but it’s “a job.” The omission of words and phases that would tie the word “jobs” to the technology grads were enrolled in like the phrases I just mentioned is routine from public technical school officials’ statements to the media.  In the years that I’ve been watching these pronouncements closely, I’ve seen a claim that they were related to the field of study one time, and that was just outright false. I’m not sure if the official actually said it to the reporter or if the reporter just assumed, like I fear prospective students do, that they were related to the program.

Now let’s take a look at what the state says in its Automated Student and Adult Learner Follow-up System website.

Since the chair doesn’t point to any specific group of grads that graduated in any specific academic year, one must believe that since time immemorial that every grad has gotten “a job.” OK. Let’s see what ASALFS has to say about one thin slice of that “all.” Click on the image below to enlarge state data for grads who attended during the 2011-2012 academic year, the latest ASALFS data available online:

TSTC Harlingen Surgical Technology Placement 2011-2012 ASALFS

TSTC Harlingen Surgical Technology Placement 2011-2012 ASALFS

As regular visitors to my site already know, the state, which figures what colleges, not the state, call their placement rates, doesn’t know what kind of jobs graduates have. The state knows the company or outfit that employed them and a little more info, but it doesn’t have a clue if graduates working for a hospital are janitors, brain surgeons, or surgical techs. (Those who want more info and documentation on how “placement” is figured should go to “Texas ‘Placement Rates’ for Public, Two-Year Colleges Explained.”) With all that in mind, the image above for just one, single year doesn’t support that official’s statement; at least it doesn’t support the natural assumption, after reading the official’s statement, that they got surgical tech jobs. 72.7% of Surgical Tech grads got a job of some sort and did NOT continue their higher education pursuits, but no one knows if that job is in the field of study or not. Another 18.2% went on to continue their higher education after graduation AND got a job of some sort, as well. The state doesn’t know if they got part-time jobs selling shoes at a mall while they work their way through college or if they’re working as a surgical tech someplace during the day and studying at night. The consistent omission of words and phrases like “program-related” and “in their field of study” next to words like “jobs” or “employment” tells me that officials are well-aware of this shortcoming in the state’s and, consequently, their own knowledge, yet they continue to throw big numbers (e.g. “all” = 100%, doesn’t it?) out there, unexplained, to a trusting public full of prospective students. Finally, the image above shows that the state couldn’t even find one student anywhere in the databases that it monitors. That’s not exactly the TSTC official’s “all” either, is it? They don’t know if that graduate is selling lemonade at a homemade stand somewhere in the Rio Grande Valley or if he or she is the rising rock star of surgical techs in Illinois, a state, like all the others, that has no obligation to report back to Texas.

As for TSTC Harlingen perhaps knowing more than the state does, I sent a Texas Public Information Act request to the college a few months ago inquiring about placement rates and such. They only kept 90-day after graduation rates, and they sent me a couple of those. (See “TSTC Harlingen’s 90-Day, Program-Related, Overall Employment 24% or Less.”) As readers can see in the reports that I posted online, the reports reflect only one [surgical tech] graduate, and officials didn’t know what happened to that grad because he or she didn’t fill out the post-graduation survey at the time of the report. Did the student fill out the survey later? Maybe, but I doubt it. Once students leave, they are notoriously hard to track down and could care less about their former colleges’ bureaucratic wishes.

The upshot of all this is that I have a hard time with officials’ statements to the media and fear that prospective students figure they’ve got a 100% chance of getting a job as a surgical technician if they enroll in Harlingen’s program. TSTC Harlingen and other public technical colleges like the Lamar Institute of Technology need to advertise program-related employment rates, and if they will not or cannot, then the least they should do is disclose what their “placement rates” include.  THAT would serve the public’s interest, particularly prospective students’ interests, and not simply the colleges’ and their administrators’.

And I haven’t even begun to look at the claim that 95% of surgical techs working in the Valley are TSTC grads. I’d like to see the documentation for that one, too. That may be right. I don’t know, but paired with the other claim regarding “all graduates,” I still want to look.

Now, having said all this, I believe that the folks at TSTC Harlingen are good people and offer some good programs, including the Surgical Tech program. In fact, I am particularly impressed with Harlingen’s president, Cesar Maldonado; nonetheless, Texas public technical schools–all of them–desperately need to do a better job of informing prospective students. Institutionally, they’ve become addicted to the state’s formula, which serves enrollment needs while not serving students’ needs.  There’s something wrong when the state would shut down private career colleges for doing the same thing it allows its public technical colleges to do.

 

 

Latest Data Shows 90% “Placement” Rate Still Just Average for Texas Colleges

Tags

, , , , ,

Since colleges submitted new information to the state in January, I thought I’d take another look and see if the 90% placement rate I keep hearing so much hoopla about is still just ho-hum, still just average. As regular visitors know, the high placement rates people hear technical schools bandying about include just about everything possible: jobs in the field, out of the field, joining the military, full-time, part-time, and even transferring to another college. With all that’s included in that percentage, I figure it would be a challenge NOT to be somewhere near 90% “placement” one way as the other. (Does anyone really think a technical college “places” grads in jobs unrelated to their field of study, the military, or another college? Me either.)  I was right. The statewide “placement rate” average for public technical colleges and their technical grads was 90.6% for FY 2012. Community colleges had an average placement rate for their grads formerly enrolled in technical programs of 89.5%, just half-a-smidgen below technical colleges. Waco’s McLennen Community College, has a 92.5% placement rate, higher than TSTC Waco’s. I’ve never heard MCC banging its chest over its placement rate, though, something I’m rather pleased about since it means almost nothing. Click on the images below to enlarge the screen shots of my queries at the Texas Higher Education Accountability website.

Tech Colleges' Placement Rates

— Tech Colleges’ Placement Rates

 

MCC Placement Rates

MCC Placement Rates

Students enroll in tech colleges for jobs, specifically jobs in the field they intend to study. When technical colleges start publishing program-related employment rates anywhere near 90% (60% or 70%, like TSTC West Texas’s 67% for FY 2013, published on its website, would be respectable), actually have a hand in the bulk of that placement rate, too, and aren’t just taking credit for a Social Security number hit in a database, THEN they’ll really have something to brag about. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for technical school administrators bragging about those ho-hum, average scores.

 

 

What Can TSTC Waco Do About Dropping Enrollment?

This blog has published several posts concerning TSTC Waco’s enrollment woes (e.g., “TSTC Waco’s First-Time, Full-Time Students“). Clearly, the college is going to have to do something differently to stop the drop. Accordingly, I invite my visitors to compare the two images below, excerpts from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s report, Space Usage Efficiency (SUE), Fall 2013. Specifically, compare the classrooms and labs in use after 5:00 PM at TSTC Waco, the first image, and the Lamar Institute of Technology, the second image. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Source: THECB's Space Usage Efficiency Report Fall 2013

Source: THECB’s Space Usage Efficiency Report Fall 2013

Page from the THECB's Space Usage Efficiency Report Fall 2013

Page from the THECB’s Space Usage Efficiency Report Fall 2013

We can’t compare the raw number of classes since LIT is smaller than Waco, but we CAN look at the relative level of activity throughout the day. As opposed to TSTC Waco, lunchtime comes and goes almost without notice at the Lamar Institute of Technology, and just look at all that activity after 5:00 PM, whether talking classrooms or labs. From the looks of the graph, TSTC Waco is almost a ghost town after 5 o’clock. Oh, there are a few classes and labs open alright, but it’s almost unnoticeable in the graph given the high level of activity that went on before the college’s apparent “quittin’ time.” Waco seems pretty fond of its lunches, too, judging from those 12 o’clock dips. I guess that’s what clock-watchers will do to a graph, eh?

For the most part students are students, whether in Central Texas or South Texas, and LIT’s clocks tell the same time as Waco’s.  I would imagine that many students who work during the day and would otherwise attend TSTC Waco would love the opportunity to take night or–dare I say it?–weekend classes in, say, auto mechanics or other technologies. Of course, Waco (and LIT for weekend classes) would have to find the instructors to teach them or have the instructors it already has teach them after 5 o’clock or on Saturday. In other words and with a nod to the 7 AM classes and labs at Waco, what is traditionally thought of as the “8 to 5” mentality would have to go. Apparently the weekday 8 to 5 mentality is already history at LIT, although its Saturday and Sunday lines, like Waco’s, are as flat-lined as an EKG hooked up to a body at a morgue.

Weekends aside, I suspect LIT is doing a fine job of meeting prospective students’ needs by keeping its doors open at night. Admittedly, LIT lost a bunch of first-time, full-time students, too, but its annual unduplicated student headcount and technical student count have both remained relatively stable compared to Waco’s. TSTC Waco could use a little stability about now, and the same type of students LIT attracts would pay off handsomely for TSTC Waco, as well. After all, even part-time students pay tuition and buy books, parking permits, and the like. Furthermore, all students have to do is complete 9 semester hours, or about three classes at a TSTC college and they could pay off under the TSTC system’s new funding model. They don’t even have to graduate or land a job in the technology they studied to pay off for the college! Everybody would win: students who weren’t able to take classes during the day could get an education, and TSTC Waco could boost its numbers (remember, now, TSTC West Texas has reminded us that numbers matter) and, thereby, its budget.

It’s all about money: students who need to learn how to make it and a college that needs the funding, both locally generated and from the state, that students bring. And behind it all are numbers. One of the numbers influencing Waco right now is the number “5” on a clock’s face.