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As my regular visitors already know, I follow media pronouncements by public technical colleges fairly closely and have been posting lately about one article in the Marshall News-Messenger in particular titled “TSTC Graduates 51, Four-Fifths Have Jobs.” See “TSTC Marshall Grad Jobs: the Story in the Paper vs. What Really Happened” and “More on TSTC Marshall Officials’ Statements” I got much of my information for my posts concerning Marshall’s placement from a Texas Public Information Act request. Marshall has since updated the report I received and posted the revised version online. Instead of a 49% employment rate in the field studied, Marshall now boasts a 53% program-related employment rate for fall 2013–still a little short of bragging territory. Here’s what I asked for in my December 2013 request:

In accordance with the Texas Public Information Act, please send to me any document or records that show the total number of TSTC Marshall graduates and completers for fall 2013 and break down that total to show the number of graduates and completers who landed a job related to their TSTC program of study, the number who landed a job unrelated to the program studied at TSTC Marshall, the number who continued their education by transferring to another college, and any other category TSTC may track such as those who entered the military. Further, if TSTC has records for the number of fall 2013 graduates or completers it actually placed or found jobs for as opposed to students’ finding their own jobs, please provide those records, as well.

By way of explanation and to inform your records search, the Marshall News-Messenger recently ran a story titled “TSTC Graduates 51, Four-Fifths Have Jobs.” That story reports that 81% have jobs. Pointedly, it does NOT say if those jobs are related to the program of study or not, nor does it indicate if that 81% includes students who transferred to another college, although when officials speak of “placement” or students being “placed,” which this article does, those who continued their education are generally included in the percentages reported to the public. Accordingly, I need a breakdown to clarify this report by the Marshall News-Messenger. TSTC Marshall posted such a breakdown for fall 2012 on its website. If such a report with the same sort of breakdown and categories is already prepared for fall 2013, providing that report will give me everything I’ve asked for in this request other than the number of grads actually placed by the college.  If no such report is prepared, then please provide alternate records that reflect that information.

What TSTC did actually send me truly satisfied everything EXCEPT “the number of grads actually placed by the college.” When I didn’t get that information and waited awhile to see if I would, I broke down and sent another query asking about it. I got back a response that said everything but “we don’t have that,” but that’s what it boiled down to. Neither TSTC Marshall nor the system could provide the number of grads Marshall actually placed versus those who went out and found a job on their own–even as officials touted that high placement rate at Marshall with officials pounding their chests about an 81% placement rate at the time.

Now, that second response from TSTC indicated that the information in the report included information from the graduate survey. Accordingly, I asked for a blank copy of the survey to see what TSTC Marshall graduates were asked. Click on the link below to see a multi-page TSTC graduate survey:

TSTC Marshall Graduate Placement Survey Spring 2014 140220

Those who examine the questions and other information TSTC asks for in the survey will see that TSTC wants to know where grads are working and if it’s program-related, among other things. Those are good questions, and I’m happy they’re on the survey; however, if they were actually placed by the college, I would think that information would already be recorded somewhere. Along those lines, there’s one question I don’t see: “Did you find this job on your own, or did the college or your college program assist you in finding this position?” That question would give the college its actual placement rate; that is, grads for whom it actually found jobs. That one isn’t there, though.

Since all public technical colleges in Texas get to claim extremely high “placement” rates because just about everything counts (e.g., jobs in the field studied, out of the field, military, and going to another college) and all that has to occur for grads to be “placed” is a Social Security number match in a database that the state monitors, technical colleges have very little motivation to track the number of grads they actually put into jobs through active placement efforts.

That inflated “placement” rate does not serve students’ interests at all. It does serve the colleges’ interests, however, doesn’t it? Does a prospective student who reads about that 81% “placement” rate in the Marshall News-Messenger have any idea that only 53% of Marshall’s students found program-related jobs? Does that student understand that state-figured “placement” rates are about Social Security number matches and not about the college actually placing grads? Even if Marshall’s report is based entirely on its own grad surveys, does that prospective student know that the placement rate touted in the newspaper includes jobs out of the field and grads going off to another college? Does anyone at Marshall, or any other Texas public technical college for that matter, point this stuff out during the enrollment process?

Prospective students and the public deserve better.