While students consistently rank the ability to get a good job as one of the most important factors in their college choices, too often this critical information is unavailable or misleading, according to a new analysis by The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS).

The three entities tasked with oversight of the U.S. higher education system—accrediting agencies, state governments, and the federal government—each issue their own uncoordinated set of requirements governing the calculation and provision of employment metrics, according to the report. 

“The resulting 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,” according to the Institute.” Job placement rates provide a textbook example of how the wide variation in definitions and calculations render the rates almost impossible to compare across schools,” the report states.

The University of Connecticut reports a “positive outcome rate” of 88 percent for graduates of the most recent academic year, within six months of graduation, at a “knowledge rate” of 72 percent.  The destinations include 63% who are employed, 22% who are continuing their education, 1% serving in the military, and 1% participating in volunteer service.

The report, Of Metrics and Markets: Measuring Post-College Employment Success, describes the many misleading conceptions of employment rates and proposes two specific, verifiable measurements that could better inform student choices.

According to the UConn website, in 2014, NACE developed national standards and protocols for colleges and universities to use in collecting and reporting graduating student career outcomes data. The result of this effort is NACE’s First-Destination Survey, which captures information regarding how new college graduates fare in their careers within six months of graduation.

NACE is the leading source of information nationwide on the employment of the college educated, and forecasts hiring and trends in the job market; tracks starting salaries, recruiting and hiring practices, and student attitudes and outcomes; and identifies best practices and benchmarks.

The Institute report recommends federal, state, and accrediting agencies standardize the job placement rate—which measures the share of graduates employed in occupations for which they were trained—and that states collect the data needed to calculate verifiable rates at low cost. And second, it recommends the federal government calculate and publish a threshold earnings rate—which measures the share of graduates employed and earning above a certain amount—for all programs using a federal data match.

“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,” said TICAS president James Kvaal. “Simply put, students are entitled to this foundational information as they make key decisions about where to invest time and money.”

The report indicates that “A 2016 survey of incoming freshmen at four-year colleges found that 84 percent identified the ability to get a better job as a very important factor in their decision to attend college, a larger share than for any other factor cited.  Similarly, 41 percent of American adults believe the most important factor in choosing between colleges or universities is the share of graduates who are able to get a good job. Beyond students and families, other decision-makers need to be able to evaluate and compare colleges and programs when deciding where to allocate limited higher education resources.”

The Institute is based in Washington, D.C. and Oakland, California.

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