Salaries prove a college’s value

Johnson County Community College hopes new data on former student salaries will help market its programs, such as those involving health care. (Photo: JCCC)

Community college leaders know anecdotally that former students can expect a big boost in salary after they complete, but getting comprehensive data is challenging.

As a result, “community colleges have historically had a difficult time telling our story,” according to Randy Weber, vice president of student success and engagement at Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Kansas.

While federal rules on gainful employment require colleges to report salary data for students a year after they graduate, “one year after graduation is not a good indicator,” Weber said.

Graduates’ stories

JCCC partnered with Equifax to provide more comprehensive data on former students and disaggregate it by student demographics, whether students completed a degree or certificate, where students relocated and other factors. The company analyzes data for students who graduated within the past 10 years, so JCCC can see how students’ earning changed over time.

Weber, along with John Clayton, JCCC’s executive director of institutional effectiveness, will describe the project at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual convention next month in Orlando.

The data analysis isn’t  finished, but the most compelling finding so far is the effect on students who needed financial aid to complete. Students who received need-based aid had incomes that were 23 percent higher five years after completion than their peers who didn’t receive need-based aid, Weber said. Those who didn’t need financial aid also saw a salary jump, but not as much.

The college will use the findings from the study to boost its marketing efforts and to make decisions about specific programs.

“We believe that with some career programs, staying and earning credentials will pay off in the long run,” Weber said. When the data is analyzed, the college should be able to have solid evidence to prove that assumption.

Equifax’s ability to provide data on a national basis will be especially helpful to JCCC, which sits on the border with Missouri, as the college has found it challenging to get salary data from that state.

A measure of success

The initiative will also highlight successful outcomes for students who take college courses, even if they don’t complete. For example, someone earning $11 in the service industry could enroll in a few HVAC courses at JCCC and get a job paying $17 an hour, Weber said. Even though that student is not considered a completer, “that is transforming a life,” he added.

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The new data will help JCCC find students to share their success stories with other students, lawmakers, businesses and other stakeholders.

“We will be able to tell prospective students: ‘Our students after one year actually made this much money. If they stay and graduate, they will make this much more money,’” Weber said.

The salary data will help the college understand which industries in the region are growing and need more employees five or so years down the road, he said, and will also help the college determine whether to revamp programs and course schedules.

And that will give advisers more concrete information as they help students with career exploration activities.

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About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.