Confusion over job placement rates

While most people who attend community college have a goal of getting a good-paying, in-demand job, data on job placement for various careers are often unavailable or misleading, according to a report from the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS).

The problem is that accrediting agencies, state governments and the federal government issue their own uncoordinated set of requirements on employment metrics, the report says.

As a result, “the patchwork of data makes meaningful comparison across programs and colleges nearly impossible and leaves major questions about the accuracy and reliability of the available information,” TICAS says.

For example, one college in Texas says its vocational nursing certificate has a job placement rate of 62 percent based on a state definition and 33 percent based on an accreditor’s definition.

Different definitions

The delimitations used to calculate how many of a school’s graduates found work in their field of study vary widely, TICAS found. Some definitions count placement in related fields, while others do not. Some count only full-time jobs, while others count graduates who only work a few hours a week. And while some definitions count immediate employment, others require a graduate to work for several months to be counted, according to the report.

Adding to the murk is that many for-profit institutions, such as the defunct Corinthian Colleges and Career Education Corporation, provided fraudulent data to students, TICAS says.

Even when metrics on job placement are comparable and accurate, students have trouble accessing them, the report says. In recent weeks, the U.S. Education Department (ED) has removed data from its College Scorecard and is eliminating requirements that colleges share job placement rates with prospective students.

The biggest issues for colleges are the difficulty of getting access to data on job placement and earnings, and the lack of coordination in sharing data across agencies, says Jim Hermes, associate vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.

“There are a lot of different ways to measure job placement,” Hermes says. “It depends on the entity doing the measuring. That creates confusion for students.”

Also, he says, the data in some cases are based on students who receive federal financial aid, which is a relatively small group of community college students, and that can lead to inaccurate data.

Standardization needed

To ensure students have access to accurate data on job placement, the report recommends that:

  • Federal, state and accrediting agencies standardize the job placement rate, which measures the share of graduates employed in occupations for which they were trained.
  • States collect the data needed to calculate verifiable rates at low cost.
  • The federal government calculate and publish a threshold earnings rate that measures the share of graduates employed and earning above a certain amount.
  • ED immediately restore and improve the College Scorecard tool.
  • Congress authorize a new federal student-level data network to enable the calculation of federal employment metrics that include all students in higher education.

“Higher education proves a powerful lever of upward mobility for many Americans but leaves too many worse off than when they started, with substantial debt and little or no increased earnings power to pay it off,” TICAS President James Kvaal said in a statement. “Simply put, students are entitled to this foundational information as they make key decision about where to invest time and money.”

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.