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As this site’s regular visitors know, I’ve made a religion out of watching the state’s technical colleges and their placement claims, among other issues. I have to say that I am guardedly optimistic now, however, because I haven’t seen one of those public tech college high-percentage job placement claims (you know, the ones that included just about any job with no mention of “in the field of study” or “program-related” anywhere near them) in three or four months now. That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that there haven’t been some, but if they’re out there, my automated Google search hasn’t brought them to me. I suspect that TSTC’s new Returned Value Funding Model has a little to do with that since the way it and the state measure TSTC’s success is a little different nowadays.

In the past, before the new funding model, I most often heard something on the order of 90% or more of technical school graduates got “jobs.” As opposed to a media announcement or press release, that 90% is still on TSTC’s website:

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! On average, industry has more job openings than TSTC has graduates. TSTC boasts placement rates of more than 90 percent (based on departmental job placement activities).

Although the above excerpt says that 90% is “based on departmental job placement activities,”  the state, which figures those placement rates for all Texas higher ed institutions, doesn’t know the job title or position for any employee. The state knows where people work but not what they do there. Any TSTC grad’s job that turns up in the database counts as placed or as a success. The state doesn’t know if a webmaster grad working for Dairy Queen is building websites or ice cream cones. (Click on the highlighted text to see a discussion of the Unemployment Insurance database and its weaknesses. The discussion arose because it was being considered for yet another use it wasn’t designed for, the TSTC Returned Value Funding Model.) Since the state does the figuring, and since just about any job counts for placement, a 90% employment rate is about average for everyone, even community colleges, whose primary mission is to pump kids into four-year colleges. Why is it average across the state? It’s run of the mill because people go to work doing something sooner or later, whether they graduate or not or whether they go to work in their field of study or not.

Click on the images below to enlarge screen shots from queries I just did on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Texas Higher Education Accountability website. Both community college academic and community college technical students come dangerously close to the 90% or more touted by public technical colleges here in Texas. Even the academic success rate is just over one percentage point away from that mystical 90%, and the technical rate is within half a point in 2012. And just check out the previous years when community college technical AND academic students topped 90%. Remember, this is just the average. Plenty of individual community colleges have success rates of over 90%.

Statewide Community College Technical Student Success Rate 2004-2012

Statewide Community College Technical Student Success Rate 2004-2012

Statewide Community College Success Rate 2004-2012

Statewide Community College Academic Success Rate 2004-2012

Now let’s compare those numbers to public technical college performance over the years:

Public Technical College Statewide and Individual Performance 2004-2012

Public Technical College Statewide and Individual Performance 2004-2012

So, historically, tech colleges have made an awful lot of hoopla about very little difference, percentage-wise, between their rates and community college rates, but, hey, that 90% sure sounds good when folks hearing it don’t compare it to anything or anyone else, eh?

Now, with its new Returned Value Funding Model, the Texas State Technical College (other tech colleges & community colleges don’t have this funding method yet), with campuses around the state, is being funded based on graduate earnings, whether grads work in the field studied or not. In a story titled “How Do Technical College Grads Fare in the Job Market? It’s Complicated,” the Texas Observer features a TSTC official citing a 60% increase in salary for TSTC grads since 2009. That 60% sure sounds good, but so did that 90% success rate until I started digging around and compared performance between colleges. The problem now is that I’ve got nothing to compare that 60% earnings increase to. I don’t know if the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has any such statistics for other technical and community colleges.

Here’s the bottom line: I want to see what the Lamar Institute of Technology’s and other institutions in the technical college cohort’s salary increases, if any, are since 2009. If LIT’s and other institutions’ rates are close to TSTC’s even without the new funding model, then the public is likely being fed a line. If it’s well below TSTC’s, then TSTC is likely onto something. After seeing tech colleges’ pound their chests over utterly average placement or “success” rates, I need to see comparative data before I can join the state’s happy dance over this new measurement. Meanwhile, I’m happy to see less and less of that chest pounding over what turned out to be just average placement results.

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