By now, this site’s regular visitors know that Texas has thrown everything but the proverbial kitchen sink into what counts as employed (e.g. jobs not related to studies, military, etc.), and colleges, particularly technical colleges (and occasionally the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board) throw in the “enrolled” percentage, as well, and call it their “placement’ rate, implying they actually found all those jobs for their grads and completers. Those who could use a little refresher should read this blog’s posts titled “Oh, Those High Technical College Placement Rates” and “Want Program-Related Placement Rates? Good Luck!” The images below (click on them to enlarge) illustrate just how meaningless those high numbers really are.
First, using data from Compare Colleges | TX, let’s take a look at just the technical colleges, taking note of the first row of figures in the image, which are state averages for ALL public, two-year colleges in Texas, NOT just technical colleges.
The state AVERAGE in the “employed and/or enrolled” column for academic students–OMG! even academic students–is 89% and for technical students is 90%. That’s the average. Let me say that again: that’s the AVERAGE–90% for technical students and just one percentage point under that at 89% for academic students. Heck, TSTC Harlingen could, if it chose to, brag all about how it “placed” 100% of its ACADEMIC students, the ones there studying core academic subjects like math, English, and history before wandering off to get a degree at at a 4-year college somewhere.
Now, let’s review a statement on the Texas State Technical College System 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).
As we now know, rates of 90% are just average, mediocre, run-of-the-mill. Just as many colleges are above 90% as are below it–average. It’s not anything for colleges’ to be beating their chests over since the state average, including the most non-technical, public college in the state, is 90% for technical students since everything counts. 90%–ho hum.
Next, let’s look at some regular ol’ community colleges.
For the colleges in the image immediately above, I selected ones relatively close (by Texas standards anyway) to TSTC colleges and LIT. Just take in those high “placement” percentages. The difference is that I don’t hear community colleges pounding their chests about placement rates. Perhaps I’ve just missed their chest pounding somehow, but I live in the same town as McLennan Community College. I’m thinking it’s because of the nature of their student population. If they publicly touted claims of 90% or more placement rates for their academic grads, many of whom were transfers to four-year colleges, people would be asking questions because when people hear words like “placement,” they think “jobs.” On the other hand, the public sure enough thinks jobs when they hear technical colleges touting placement rates. Technical college administrators’ chests have to be so sore that they can’t touch ’em with a powder puff as they tout their utterly average, for the most part, rates. TSTC Waco and the Lamar Institute of Technology were just that–utterly average–for the fiscal year plugged into the Compare Colleges | TX website, which appears to be FY 2011. TSTC Marshall fell short of statewide mediocrity by 8 percentage points. TSTC West Texas and TSTC Harlingen fared better at 95% and 97% respectively, although I doubt, if Jane & John Q. Student understood that average performance was 90%, that they would be all that excited about numbers only 5-7 points higher. It’s flat-out hard to set yourself apart when everybody gets to score high in a rigged system. Just about everything except hiding under the covers at Grandma’s house feeds into colleges’ rates one way or another.
If I were an administrator at a technical college, I would WANT the state to require all colleges to report the numbers and percentages of students who actually landed jobs in their fields of study. THAT, I’m betting, would really set technical schools apart from their community and junior college counterparts. In a bureaucratic, Orwellian world in which everything is “doubleplusgood,” one in which almost everything counts, however, it’s hard for me to fathom administrators accustomed to bragging about artificially high numbers to willingly switch to bragging about much lower numbers, even if those lower figures would actually set their colleges’ performance apart quite truthfully. As long as the public believes those 90%+ numbers are exceptional, why change?
As a result, here we are with the state & its technical colleges, in particular, not playing by the numbers; they’re playing with the numbers. To get away with pounding their chests about average numbers like they’re something special, they depend on public ignorance regarding how those numbers are figured.