As much as anything else, I’m posting this information as a handy reference when I write other articles and want to link to something that goes in-depth on how the state figures the employment or “placement” rates people hear public two-year colleges, particularly technical colleges, offering. Essentially, just about everything that can go into it does. It’s a loaded process that makes it hard, very hard, for students NOT to count as a success for whatever college they choose to attend in Texas.
First, let’s look at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Texas Higher Education Data website and the definitions offered by that site’s Automated Student and Adult Learner Follow-up System (ASALFS). Click on the image below to enlarge the definitions:
Visitors should note that the very first database mentioned is the Texas Workforce Commission’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) database. That database, which was obviously designed for purposes other than tracking education results, is exceptionally limited in the information it provides about graduates and completers. The image below is a page out of a letter written by the Texas Comptroller’s Office about those limitations when this misused database was being considered for yet another use for which it was never intended:
Yep, you read it right: the state doesn’t even know the job title or so much as the occupation of students who turn up in the database. The UI database reflects where they work, but they don’t know if they’re pushing computer cables or a lawnmower.
Information in the definitions (image at the top of this post) also indicates that the state includes service in the military (DoD databases) and those who go into the federal job sector. Finally, note that the state checks the public higher education enrollment database to see who wandered off to another college.
Now, further note the definition of employment or rather note what is missing:
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.
What’s missing in the definition above? Give up? What’s missing are words like “in their field of study” after the word “employed” or any other indication that former students landed jobs even remotely related to their programs of study while in Texas education. Any job that turns up in that database counts: full-time, part-time, in the field of study or out. I have yet to hear a college reveal that while pounding its chest over its high employment or “placement” rates. By the way, as the ASALFS definitions reveal, all that has to happen is a social security number match for colleges to get credit. Unlike private career schools in Texas, public schools don’t have to place a soul to take the credit.
A look at a two-year Texas technical college’s posting illustrates the state’s policy. The Texas State Technical College (TSTC) West Texas is actually, to its credit, attempting to track its program-related student employment outcomes. Please enlarge the image below to take a look at a page of its online report:
After enlarging the image above, look toward the top of the page at that incredible-sounding 93.6% “Overall Placement Rate” (in truth it’s just 3.6% above the state average) and what it includes: Employment related to the program studied, employment unrelated, employment unknown, military, and those who continued their education by going to another college somewhere. (It’s program-related employment rate of 72% is nothing to be ashamed of and well-above the Texas Workforce Commission’s requirement of 60% for private career schools. Hats off to TSTC West Texas for trying to track program-related stats on its own since the state doesn’t track it at all. The state just tracks jobs, program-related or not.) It’s almost humorous to think that a student could throw up his hands and leave because he is disgusted with a college, and he will nonetheless be counted as a success for that college because he was “motivated” to continue his education.
In fact, if students stay in Texas and do anything other than hide under the blankets at Grandma’s, they’re likely to count as a success for their colleges. All the state has to do is find them in one of the databases it monitors. As broken out in the ASALFS definitions, the following categories of students won’t count as college successes:
STUDENTS NOT FOUND
– Students who were reported to the THECB as enrolled during a given academic year, but were not found by the ASALFS process.
Types of Students not Found:
• Students who transferred to colleges outside of Texas
• Students who were working for companies in Texas not covered by Unemployment Insurance regulations
• Students who were self-employed
• Students who were incarcerated after exiting the program
• Students who were employed outside of Texas
• Students who were truly unemployed and not pursuing higher education
Texas community and technical colleges located near the border may have high percentages of their former students in the Students Not Found category.
So there it is: if the state can find grads and completers in the databases it monitors, they count regardless of the type of jobs they find or whether they find a job at all if they continue their education. That’s why the average–the AVERAGE– “placement” rate for Texas two-year colleges, including technical colleges, is an incredible 90%. That’s why dropouts or, as the state calls them, “non-returners” can actually have a higher employment rate than grads. For academic colleges, where the object is to get a well-rounded education that will, indeed, help with just about any job or just enable students to lead more fulfilling lives or, very often, prepare for the rigors of a four-year institution, I can actually understand an inclusive formula. Consequently, I can even understand including enrollment in another institution as a success for academic colleges. They have a different mission. Furthermore, I don’t hear them pounding their chests about “placement” like I do technical colleges. They may do it some, but I sure haven’t heard it very often. On the other hand, I do NOT understand this all-inclusive methodology at all in the context of technical colleges, where the goal is to study a specific technology and then land a job in that technology. In those cases, this all-inclusive method is misleading to potential students and their families. So far, that hasn’t stopped technical colleges from touting those 90%+ placement rates, though.