As I promised in my 1/15/2014 post, “TSTC Marshall Grad Jobs: the Story in the Paper vs. What Really Happened,” it’s time to take yet another hard look at the Marshall News Messenger‘s 12/12/2013 article titled “TSTC Graduates 51, Four-Fifths Have Jobs.” Specifically, my visitors need to examine the quote below:
More important than our commencement ceremony on Friday night, is whether our graduates will go to work on Monday morning,” [TSTC Marketing and Communications Director Baily Atchley] Atchley said. “Our consistently high job placement numbers is a real testament to how outstanding our graduates are.
This new and frankly revolutionary funding formula is a positive for our students, industry partners and Texas as a whole.
“Our consistently high job placement numbers” got my attention. Now, the number the article throws out there for public consumption is 81% “placement” for the fall 2013 term. OK. 81% sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Of course, as my previous post already exposes, that 81% consists of jobs in the field studied, jobs OUT of the field studied, joining the military, and even transfers to another college. I don’t believe most people even suspect that. I haven’t done a scientific survey, but of the dozens of folks I’ve asked about it over several years, not one knew what was included in that placement rate. Not one. That’s old news, though. Let’s see how TSTC Marshall has performed over time. Please examine the image below (click on it to enlarge):
TSTCs and Lamars Graduate Success or Placement Rates 2004-2011
Now, the above image, taken from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s “Higher Education Accountablity System” website, only has information through FY 2011, and those numbers are for the entire fiscal year (fall thru summer terms), while the 81% being bandied about in the article is for the fall 2013 term only. Having said all that, of the seven colleges in the state’s technical college peer group, TSTC Marshall is slugging it out with the Lamar State College Orange for next-to-last place. All the other TSTCs and Lamars have their all-inclusive placement rates in the 90’s. The statewide average was 91.1% in FY 2011. That “consistently high” comment only resonates with people who don’t know the whole story. It’s like some guy coming in next-to-last in the 50-yard dash banging his chest about his great time. It only sounds good if you don’t know the other guys’ times.
Another TSTC official, Benji Cantu, the Director of Career Services, also gives credit to the new funding model for TSTC Marshall’s fine placement record. Yeah. Sure thing. Marshall’s FY 2011 rate was 82.4%. It was 81% for fall 2013. That’s quite an improvement. And this quote is a rather curious admission: “We no longer get them here and train them and then let them fend for themselves after they graduate.” What? They allowed students to “fend for themselves”? But wait! They’ve been bragging about “placement ” for years. In fact, the Marshall News Messenger, in a 6/6/2012 article titled “TSTC First College in Nation to Fund by Results,” published a 90% placement rate for the college. “TSTC” did have around a 90% placement rate (for what that all-inclusive rate is worth when technical colleges throw it around), but NOT TSTC Marshall. In fact, as TSTC Marshall records reveal, TSTC Marshall had a mere 78% all-inclusive placement rate for the spring 2012 term, which it had recently finished at the time of the article’s publication. The number of grads who had jobs, whether related or not to the program studied, was just 64%. The previous semester’s numbers for fall 2011 were 78% (all-inclusive placement rate) and 62% (employed whether related or not related to the program studied). To see the TSTC Marshall reports for fall 2011 and spring 2012, obtained through a Texas Public Information Act request, click on the images below:
TSTC Marshall Placement Report Fall 2011
TSTC Marshall Spring 2012 Placement Report
When the Marshall News Messenger interviewed TSTC Marshall President Randall Wooten for that June 2012 article, Mr. Wooten pointed out the difference between technical colleges and community colleges, to wit: “The [new funding] formula works very well for TSTC whose job it is to put people to work. It doesn’t work well for a community college because their primary job is to take students and move them from a 2 year institution to a 4 year institution.” With that difference in mind, then public technical colleges, “whose job it is to put people to work,” shouldn’t be quoting “placement” statistics that include transfers to other colleges. President Wooten also said in the same article, ““People come here for skills.” They sure do; they come for specific skills expecting to go to work in a specific occupation. They don’t hope to gain, for example, computer systems networking administration skills, and then go to work as a department store cashier. Those grads, however, count as “placed,” as well, since all that has to occur is a Social Security number match in a database the state either maintains or monitors.
Technical colleges and community colleges, as President Wooten indicated, are different. Texas public technical colleges need to stop using those “placement” stats better suited to community colleges, start coming clean with the public and start using PROGRAM-RELATED employment rates. As I’ve said before, the vast majority of people attend technical colleges to get a specific skill-set for a specific technical occupation. On 3/15/2012 TSTC Chancellor Mike Reeser said it best for the Texas Tribune: “We have no casual students,” he said. “We have no students who go just to pick up a class or two.”
TSTC Marshall’s program-related employment rate was 49% for fall 2013. Prospective students need to know that BEFORE enrolling and very possibly racking up student debt. TSTC colleges have already stopped using the state’s method of funding community colleges because technical colleges are about employment and not transfers. Now they need to stop using “placement” stats that suit community colleges’ mission but not technical colleges’. Texas students deserve better.