On Wednesday I laid out what a gainful-employment report looks like. But just how informative is it? I talked to Debbie Frankle Cochrane of the Institute for College Access and Success, who has done a lot of work on community colleges and financial aid. I showed her a sample report from Globe University and asked her to guide me through it. (I’ve converted the report — which looks like the one from Wednesday — into text form because it’s easier to read the notes at the bottom.) This one is from Globe’s two-year message therapy program.
AAS Massage Therapy
|Median Federal Loan Debt||$17,522|
|Median Private Loan Debt||$0|
|Median Institutional Loan Debt||$0|
|On-Time Completion Rate||87.5%|
|Links to Occupational Profiles on O*Net|
|SOC: 31-9011.00||Massage Therapists|
|SOC: 25-1071.00||Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary|
Notes. 1 – Tuition, fees and textbook costs are current as of July 1, 2011 and represent estimated costs for students completing the program “on-time”; 2 – “Median Federal Loan Debt” is the median value of total debt from federal student loans for students completing the program in the 2009-2010 award year; 3 – “Median Private Loan Debt” is the median value of total debt from private loan sources for students completing the program in the 2009-2010 award year; 4 – “Median Institutional Loan Debt” is the median value of total debt from institutional financing plans for students completing the program in the 2009-2010 award year; 5 –the “On-Time Completion Rate” reflects the percentage of students completing the program in 2009-1010 who did so within the normal program length; 6 – Job placement rate calculated for 2009-2010 program graduates using the method established by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS – www.acics.org); 7 – O*Net is the U.S. Department of Labor’s database for job titles and information related to employment in specific career fields. The occupations listed in the table above result from entering the program’s CIP (Classification of Instructional Programs) Code into the O*Net Crosswalk at http://www.onetonline.org/crosswalk/. CIP codes reflect broad categories of educational programs rather than the specific focus of a program offered at a particular institution. As a result, the occupations listed above represent potential careers that may be obtained by graduates of this program and may include occupations in which program graduates do not work. Please speak to an admissions representative to learn more about specific career opportunities for graduates of this program.Values of “n/a” appear for new programs that had no graduates in 2009-2010.
Going through the report:
- Tuition, fees and books. Fairly self-explanatory. Students, however, will have to add up those costs and consider, if they think they won’t be able to graduate “on time,” how much more that will cost.
- Median federal/private/institutional loan debt. These numbers could be useful. But Cochrane said it’s important to remember that the number is a median. “Half of the students have more than that — and so who knows how much?” Students should also look elsewhere to see the number of students who borrow money, and what the school’s loan default rate is. (Those numbers are reported here for schools, however — not programs.) A “0” means that the majority of graduates in that program don’t have any of that type of debt.
- On-time completion rate. This is the practically meaningless as it’s currently defined, Cochrane said. If you read the data notes at the bottom of the report, you’ll see that point No. 5 reads: “On-Time Completion Rate” reflects the percentage of students completing the program in 2009-1010 who did so within the normal program length.” It tells nothing about how likely prospective students are to graduate, because it looks only at people who have actually graduated. So if only 10 percent of students actually graduate, but 90 percent of that 10 percent complete the program on time, an institution can post a 90 percent on-time completion rate in the report.
- Job placement rate. Potentially useful, but not of much help, Cochrane said. That’s because “there’s no norm on what constitutes job placement.” The feds are working on that one. But for now, schools answer to different standards about how much work graduates must be doing in their field of study to be considered placed in a job. Some colleges, you might have read, have also been accused of inflating job placement data.
A Game Art and Design Bachelor’s Student (one who learns how to create video games) with 100K in student debt is working at Toys R Us in the video game department earning $8.90 an hour. I was told to “place” him as employed in his field because his work was with video games. “He needs to know the knowledge he learned to be able to help his customers decide which games to purchase.”
Cochrane told me:
“It’s unclear what the individual placement rates mean, or how comparable they are from program to program ... I wouldn’t necessarily see a high-job placement rate as sign of quality, but a low job placement rate would be a big red flag.”
- Links to Occupational Profiles on O*Net. These might be helpful to get a feel for the type of work. And if students click on the links and scroll to the bottom of the reports, they’ll get data on median wages, projected job growth and projected openings — which can help them figure out whether they’ll make enough to pay off any student loans they’d incur.
All in all, Cochrane said:
“Potential students should take the information with a grain of salt. Colleges are now required to report very important information, but the extent to which they’re doing so accurately is unknown. … (This) information in required in disclosures in an important first step, but not the be-all-and-end-all.”