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In a previous post, I finally came out from behind cover and called the system designed by the state to track technical colleges’ “placement” rigged. As Exhibit 1, please allow me to submit the following two images taken from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Automated Student and Adult Learner Follow-up System (ASALFS) for academic year 2011-2012. Click on the images to enlarge them.

THECB ASALFS Report on TSTC System-wide Academic Year 2011-2012

THECB ASALFS Report on TSTC System-wide Academic Year 2011-2012

Sorce: THECB ASALFS Report Academic Year 2011-2012

Source: THECB ASALFS Report on LIT Academic Year 2011-2012

Visitors will notice that I have drawn multiple arrows to data in rows for non-returners, otherwise known as dropouts. For whatever reason, they decided NOT to come back and finish up whatever program they were enrolled in. Visitors will also notice that the arrows consistently point to programs in which the programs’ dropouts equaled or outperformed–outperformed–the graduates. Now let me pose a question here: Does any visitor to this website seriously believe that either the Lamar Institute of Technology or the Texas State Technical College “placed” these non-returners or dropouts? Heck, they didn’t come back to be placed, yet here they are outperforming their graduate/completer counterparts. What we have to remember, of course, is that whether we’re talking about graduates or dropouts, any job that turns up in a state-monitored database counts, whether it’s military service or civilian, in the program studied or out of the program studied, part-time time or full-time. If a fast-food job shows up in a database for a guy who didn’t show up to finish his Commercial and Advertising Art program of study, then–PRESTO–the guy’s technical college chalks up another “placed” student in the grad row or the non-returner row, depending on whether the student finished the program or not. Success! Of course, the THECB doesn’t use the words “placed” or “placement” nearly as often as college administrators do. The THECB more often uses words like “employed” or “employed and enrolled.” Saying “placed” sounds so much better in the media, though, doesn’t it? You betcha they placed their dropouts!

Of course, we don’t hear technical colleges pounding their chests about their “placement rate” for dropouts, either, do we? Why? Because people would start asking questions. “What do you mean you placed your dropouts?” Nobody wants questions. They just want to claim high placement rates. Accordingly, Texas public technical school higher ed administrators stick to the graduate and program completer statistics for their technical student grads & completers.  (For much the same reason, they don’t brag about their academic students’ high “placement” rates, either.) The problem is that in a world where everything counts, even dropouts can outperform graduates.

Administrators can’t have their credibility and state statistics, too. Either their programs are so out of kilter that dropouts outperform their grads in some instances, or the state’s way of figuring things is so out of kilter that even dropouts can outperform grads on paper. OK, administrators, which is it?

Crazy stuff. It’s misleading stuff when public technical colleges in Texas start touting their graduate “placement rates,” whether it’s through the media or face-to-face with  Little Johnny and his parents. (After visitors read the article linked in the previous sentence, they should probably read this e-mail exchange between an LIT official and me.)

Technical colleges and the state need to start reporting on program-related employment, jobs related to what grads actually studied. If they are going to call it “placement,” then they need to actually have something to do (other than technical training) with former students landing a particular job. Whether it’s a kid living in poverty’s shadow or an adult struggling with minimum wage, sometimes people only get one shot at a better life. Texas’s technical colleges owe these people accurate, program-related information so that single shot has the potential to bag a trophy life.