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As this site’s regular visitors already know, the Texas Workforce Commission makes sure that private career colleges spell out program-related graduation, employment, and placement rates BEFORE prospective students sign on the dotted line. See just one section of TWC’s Form PS-005 private career colleges have students sign before enrollment (click on the image to enlarge):

Screen Shot of a Portion of Form PS-005

Screen Shot of a Portion of Form PS-005

Just look at all that program-related information designed to help prospective students make the right choice. If students are about to unwittingly select a program that isn’t performing well within the career school itself or not performing well in terms of employment after graduation, the Form PS-005 will put them on notice, allowing them to make any choice with their eyes wide open.

Not so, as this blog has discussed in-depth, at Texas’s public technical schools. (See “Texas Placement Rates for Public, Two-Year Colleges Explained.”) Many students hear that constant drumbeat of 90% placement, which includes jobs related to the field studied, jobs unrelated, the military, & transfers to another college, and think they’ve got a 90% or more shot at a job in the technology they want to sign up for. Sadly, that’s just not true for most public college technologies. So, if Little Janie next door came over and wanted help picking a technology at, say, the Texas State Technical College Waco, here’s how I would try to help her make the most informed choice possible with the information I have at hand now. FYI, I have requested TSTC Waco’s and TSTC Harlingen’s program-related employment rates via a Texas Public Information Act request. If I get any program-related information (I came up dry when I asked the Lamar Institute of Technology), I’ll update this post with those results. (UPDATE 11/5/2013: I did receive a response from the TSTC System. Harlingen had some program-related employment stats, which I’ll post later. TSTC Waco, however, the campus I’m using for my example in this post, did not. See “TSTC Waco: Public Info Request for Program-Specific Employment Data Came up Dry.”)

First, let’s decide on some criteria for selection of eligible programs for Little Janie. Now, the TWC requires private career schools, outfits like ITT, to have AT LEAST a 60% PROGRAM-RELATED employment rate. I think that’s fair. People don’t go to public technical schools or private career schools to prepare for Harvard or MIT; they go there to pick up some skills and land a decent job using those skills, and they want a decent shot at landing those jobs. Accordingly, I’m going to use the 60% program-related employment standard for Waco. But wait! We don’t have any program-related info. That’s true, but we DO have program-related information at TSTC West Texas and TSTC Marshall. TSTC West Texas has a 70% program-related employment rate over three semesters (summer 2012, fall 2012, & spring 2013), while TSTC Marshall has a dismal 33% program-related employment rate for fall 2012. After cranking in virtually everything except how often graduates said the word “job,” West Texas’s overall “placement” rate was 90.7% and Marshall’s was 73%. Little Janie, however is interested in getting a good, solid job in the field she chooses to study, not a job working as a cashier somewhere, not the military, and not transferring somewhere else after spending her time and cash at the technical school.  Accordingly, we’re going to have to come up with a way to estimate program-related stats. To do that, we’re going to have to use the state’s employment stats in the Automated Student and Adult Learner Follow-up System (ASALFS) and modify those numbers just a tad in view of what we know of program related info at West Texas and Marshall. That said, Marshall is just out of the ballpark with its lowly 33% program-related employment rate, so I’m going to have to go with West Texas’s numbers. I’ll take 8%, the percentage of TSTC West Texas’s grads who landed an unrelated job, off the top of TSTC Waco programs’ employment stats. It’s all estimation, but it’s the best we’ll be able to do. Also, I’m going to want the grads’ state-figured (related jobs + unrelated jobs) employment rate to be higher than the non-returners’ or dropouts’ rates to at least give some evidence of any program’s influence on employability. Since nearly everything counts, dropouts can actually have a higher employment rate than grads. I would hope that the grads have more jobs in the their former programs, though. We don’t know that, however, since the state doesn’t track it. Those who go to the ASALFS site will notice that a separate set of stats exists for technical students and “tech prep” students. Tech prep students start in high school, but Little Janie did not. She’s coming into any program cold. Accordingly, we’re going to use the stats for students who just come in off the street with no high school prep or background.

I’m also going to want Janie to have a fighting chance of getting through the program while she’s studying at TSTC Waco, so we’ll also take a hard look at program graduate numbers vs. non-returner (or dropout) numbers. I want Janie to have better than an even shot, so we’ll want the number of graduates to be at least half of the number of dropouts, which, by the way, is well above the state average.

So Janie walks through my door and announces that she’s interested in working in a field related to computers, so we’re going to sift through TSTC Waco’s 2011-2012 programs listed in ASALFS with the word “computer” or “network” and their derivatives in them for their graduate employment stats. Now, remember, these state employment stats include BOTH jobs related to the field of study and those unrelated: any old job will do as long as there’s a Social Security number match. (What colleges call “placement” is even more inclusive, of course, but Janie is interested in employment, which is why she’s going to a technical school to start with.)

Here we go, Janie. The ASALFS results by program are as follows (click on the image to enlarge):

Little Janie TSTC Waco Program Grad Employment Advice Table 131020

Based on the results I found in ASALFS and my program-related estimates in the table above, I’d advise Little Janie to explore another technical career if she wants to study in Waco. NOT ONE of the programs above meets the Texas Workforce Commission’s requirement for private school program-related employment of 60%–even when non-program related employment is thrown into the mix. Of course, when I subtract my 8% to arrive at a program-related employment percentage estimate, they sure enough don’t meet the minimum TWC standards. Pretty dismal stuff for the most part.

If Little Janie were dead set on sticking with the computer field, then I’d advise her to try Computer & Information Systems Security/Information Assurance. It comes  the closest to the 60% mark with an estimated 49.1% program-related employment rate and a state-figured related + unrelated rate of 57.1%. It doesn’t meet my criterion of grads numbering at least half of the dropouts’ number (What’s happening in the Computer Support Specialist Program and that 1:83 ratio?), but OK. It’s the best she’s going to get. The grad rate is still better than the state average, and it looks to me like Janie will have about an even shot at getting a job in her field after she graduates.  I’d like it to be more than an even shot, but if she’s dead set. . . .

If I could, however, I’d be steering her to other programs like Waco’s Drafting and Design Technology. THAT program has a state-figured, related+non-related employment rate of 84.6%, giving it an estimated program-related employment rate of 76.6%–not bad & well above private schools’ 60% requirement! Its 13 grads also outnumber its 8 dropouts or non-returners, which speaks well of the program’s staff & blows the state average out of the water. Its non-returners do have a higher related + unrelated employment rate than grads, but that’s because any kind of job counts, whether looking at grads or non-returners. Again, I would hope that the grads have a much higher program-related percentage, even if the state doesn’t know what that percentage is. All in all, Drafting and Design looks like a good bet for Janie’s time and money. Waco’s Laser, Electromechanical Technology, and other programs look great, too.

Some programs are way better than others. Heck, some, like Computer Support Specialist with one graduate, 83 dropouts, and its 0% state-figured employment rate, are downright stinkers. Students need that information before they sign. Technical colleges’ pounding their chests about 90%+ “placement” rates isn’t the answer.