If I were someone who wanted to push back at those 50%-58% program-related employment rates I dug out of the Alumni Employment Survey, Fall 2012, yesterday, the first thing I’d try to do is discount the statistical validity of the report itself. The report says that Texas State Technical College Waco sent the survey to 944 grads & completers and got 122 responses, yielding a 13% response rate. Now, I’m no statistician, so I couldn’t tell you if 13% is valid or not, although I’ve got a good friend who is a bit more familiar with these things who claims it is. That said, since the report covers grads from the 2010-2011 academic year, I figured I’d compare its results with the state’s Automated Student and Adult Learner Follow-up System (ASALFS) for the same period. The ASALFS grand total “Employed and/or Additional Higher Education” percentage, the percentage technical colleges rhetorically convert to their “placement” rate in the media and other public pronouncements, was extremely close to the the number I got when I applied the state formula and did the math myself using the report’s numbers.

Now, this post is about WACO’s report, but to provide the formula, I’ve copied just a smidgen of TSTC West Texas’s online placement report so visitors can see what actually goes into those high placement percentages & how they’re figured. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Placement Formula Taken from TSTC West Texas Website 10/31/2013

Placement Formula Taken from TSTC West Texas Website 10/31/2013

Note that TSTC West Texas’s overall placement percentage is a 90.7% after administrators and the state get through throwing in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. That percentage consists of jobs related to grads’ programs of study, jobs completely unrelated, unknown jobs (that’s right–unknown jobs), grads who join the military, and those who continue their higher education. They add all those categories up, stick that total over the total number of grads and–PRESTO–a nice, high “placement” percentage results to tell an unsuspecting Ma and Pa Kettle who want a good life for Little Johnny and want him to have a 90%+ chance of getting a job in what he studies.

Now, let’s add up all those corresponding categories in the TSTC Waco report and and get our own “placement” percentage by dividing the total we get by the total number of respondents to the survey. To do that, I’ll use the category numbers appearing toward the bottom of p. 4 of the report.

78 grads (full-time employed) + 7 grads (part-time employed) + 0 (military) + 6 (continuing higher education) + 6 (full-time employed & also continuing higher education) + 3 (part-time employed and continuing higher education) + 1 (unemployed and continuing higher education) = 101 total grads that count toward the “placement” rate.

Now, those 101 grads from the categories that count will be placed over the total number of respondents to give us that big ol’ “placement” percentage: 101/121 = 83.47%.  Doesn’t that sound so much better than a percentage in the 50’s for program-related employment? You betcha!

Next, let’s take our self-figured 83.47% placement rate and compare it to the rate we find in the state’s ASALFS data.  Click the image below to enlarge it:

TSTC Waco ASALFS Grand Total 2010-2011 131031

Bingo! The state’s percentage in the everything but the kitchen sink category, “Employed and/or Higher Education,” is 84.2%. The placement percentage we just figured together using numbers from the TSTC Waco report was 83.47%. The difference between the state’s percentage and ours is less than 1%.

Accordingly, I’ve got quite a bit of faith in the numbers and percentages offered straight up in the TSTC Waco Alumni Employment Survey, Fall 2012 AND the much less flattering program-related employment numbers and percentages, based on the survey’s numbers, we had to pry out of it, like the 50.41% of grads who found full-time employment related to their programs and were not continuing their education. They just finished their instructional programs, found a job, and went to work. 50.41%.  That’s a far cry from those percentages above in the 80’s and even further from the 90%+ public pronouncements the system makes in the media.

Sadly, although we’ve figured some college-wide program-related placement numbers based on the survey, not even TSTC Waco has specific program-related employment numbers for each of its programs. The survey doesn’t even ask what program grads were in. To get statistically valid information for each of its programs, which would necessarily have much smaller populations than the college as a whole, the TSTC Waco would have to follow up with phone calls, e-mails, and letters and generally be more aggressive about getting that data. Of course, if officials actually placed all the grads they take credit for placing, officials would know already, now wouldn’t they? Heck, the survey would be redundant then.

Texas students deserve straight-up information about their specific programs, not inflated “placement” rates.