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Recently, a Texas State Technical College Harlingen official made a couple of claims about his program’s graduates. Specifically, the chair of the college’s Surgical Technology Program had this to say in a 3/28/2014 Valley Morning Star story titled “Clinical Studies: Surgical Technology Program Places All Graduates in Jobs“:

Program chairman Robert Sanchez has been involved with the program for 33 years and said all graduates are placed in jobs and 95 percent of technicians working in Valley hospitals are TSTC graduates.

Not insignificantly, in view of the foregoing claims, the article goes on to say, “The ST Program is accepting applications through April 11 for new students who will begin classes this fall.” So, without specifying any particular year’s grads, “all graduates are placed in jobs.” Note also the passive verb structure in the sentence. The graduates don’t place themselves, but “are placed.” Implicitly, someone else does the placing, someone like TSTC Harlingen, perhaps? (While I believe that TSTC Harlingen does, indeed, have a hand in placing some grads, all that has to happen is a Social Security match in a state-monitored database for a grad to count as placed and the college, any Texas college, to take the credit.)

First, as I do every time I critique officials’ statements, please allow me to point out that oh-so-predictable omission in these people’s statements to the press: words like “program-related” don’t appear before the word “jobs,” nor do phrases like “in their field of study” appear after the word “jobs.” In other words, they got “a job.” It could be a job as a carhop at Sonic, but it’s “a job.” The omission of words and phases that would tie the word “jobs” to the technology grads were enrolled in like the phrases I just mentioned is routine from public technical school officials’ statements to the media.  In the years that I’ve been watching these pronouncements closely, I’ve seen a claim that they were related to the field of study one time, and that was just outright false. I’m not sure if the official actually said it to the reporter or if the reporter just assumed, like I fear prospective students do, that they were related to the program.

Now let’s take a look at what the state says in its Automated Student and Adult Learner Follow-up System website.

Since the chair doesn’t point to any specific group of grads that graduated in any specific academic year, one must believe that since time immemorial that every grad has gotten “a job.” OK. Let’s see what ASALFS has to say about one thin slice of that “all.” Click on the image below to enlarge state data for grads who attended during the 2011-2012 academic year, the latest ASALFS data available online:

TSTC Harlingen Surgical Technology Placement 2011-2012 ASALFS

TSTC Harlingen Surgical Technology Placement 2011-2012 ASALFS

As regular visitors to my site already know, the state, which figures what colleges, not the state, call their placement rates, doesn’t know what kind of jobs graduates have. The state knows the company or outfit that employed them and a little more info, but it doesn’t have a clue if graduates working for a hospital are janitors, brain surgeons, or surgical techs. (Those who want more info and documentation on how “placement” is figured should go to “Texas ‘Placement Rates’ for Public, Two-Year Colleges Explained.”) With all that in mind, the image above for just one, single year doesn’t support that official’s statement; at least it doesn’t support the natural assumption, after reading the official’s statement, that they got surgical tech jobs. 72.7% of Surgical Tech grads got a job of some sort and did NOT continue their higher education pursuits, but no one knows if that job is in the field of study or not. Another 18.2% went on to continue their higher education after graduation AND got a job of some sort, as well. The state doesn’t know if they got part-time jobs selling shoes at a mall while they work their way through college or if they’re working as a surgical tech someplace during the day and studying at night. The consistent omission of words and phrases like “program-related” and “in their field of study” next to words like “jobs” or “employment” tells me that officials are well-aware of this shortcoming in the state’s and, consequently, their own knowledge, yet they continue to throw big numbers (e.g. “all” = 100%, doesn’t it?) out there, unexplained, to a trusting public full of prospective students. Finally, the image above shows that the state couldn’t even find one student anywhere in the databases that it monitors. That’s not exactly the TSTC official’s “all” either, is it? They don’t know if that graduate is selling lemonade at a homemade stand somewhere in the Rio Grande Valley or if he or she is the rising rock star of surgical techs in Illinois, a state, like all the others, that has no obligation to report back to Texas.

As for TSTC Harlingen perhaps knowing more than the state does, I sent a Texas Public Information Act request to the college a few months ago inquiring about placement rates and such. They only kept 90-day after graduation rates, and they sent me a couple of those. (See “TSTC Harlingen’s 90-Day, Program-Related, Overall Employment 24% or Less.”) As readers can see in the reports that I posted online, the reports reflect only one [surgical tech] graduate, and officials didn’t know what happened to that grad because he or she didn’t fill out the post-graduation survey at the time of the report. Did the student fill out the survey later? Maybe, but I doubt it. Once students leave, they are notoriously hard to track down and could care less about their former colleges’ bureaucratic wishes.

The upshot of all this is that I have a hard time with officials’ statements to the media and fear that prospective students figure they’ve got a 100% chance of getting a job as a surgical technician if they enroll in Harlingen’s program. TSTC Harlingen and other public technical colleges like the Lamar Institute of Technology need to advertise program-related employment rates, and if they will not or cannot, then the least they should do is disclose what their “placement rates” include.  THAT would serve the public’s interest, particularly prospective students’ interests, and not simply the colleges’ and their administrators’.

And I haven’t even begun to look at the claim that 95% of surgical techs working in the Valley are TSTC grads. I’d like to see the documentation for that one, too. That may be right. I don’t know, but paired with the other claim regarding “all graduates,” I still want to look.

Now, having said all this, I believe that the folks at TSTC Harlingen are good people and offer some good programs, including the Surgical Tech program. In fact, I am particularly impressed with Harlingen’s president, Cesar Maldonado; nonetheless, Texas public technical schools–all of them–desperately need to do a better job of informing prospective students. Institutionally, they’ve become addicted to the state’s formula, which serves enrollment needs while not serving students’ needs.  There’s something wrong when the state would shut down private career colleges for doing the same thing it allows its public technical colleges to do.