Beware of colleges' job statistics, experts warn students
When Amira Lucas began looking at colleges, several considerations topped her list.
A junior at Pittsburgh's Urban Pathways Charter School, Lucas, 16, wants to double-major in fashion design and business to enhance her job prospects. She wants to explore scholarship possibilities and to learn how graduates fare in the job market.
Job placement rates seem to be a reasonable question for students and families looking for return on the investment for a four-year degree. But it pays to read the fine print of graduate surveys that colleges and universities publish. The methodology varies dramatically.
“I didn't know that,” Lucas said. “That makes it tough.”
Washington & Jefferson College, a private college in Washington, says 94 percent of its 2013 graduates were employed or in graduate school.
W&J bases that on responses from 80 percent of its 332 graduates, 61 percent of whom said they accepted job offers or joined the military and 42 percent of whom said they were accepted to graduate school. The numbers exceed 100 percent because some grads are working and continuing education, the school said.
Yet the W&J ads don't distinguish grads who landed plum positions in work related to their majors from those who wait tables at restaurants.
“As we're a liberal arts school, we don't define in ‘their field' that way,” said Jami Klingensmith, assistant director of career services at W&J.
California University of Pennsylvania, on the other hand, conducts a detailed phone survey six months after graduation.
Its report explains how many students were contacted (54 percent of 2,601); how many of those responded (84 percent); who works in fields related to studies or in unrelated fields, full and part time, or joined the military (85 percent); and the number attending graduate school (13 percent). It provides specifics for each degree program.
Ed Koc, research director for the National Association of Colleges and Employers, said the organization wants a standard survey that provides clear, comprehensive and consistent data by 2015. Schools should have information on a minimum of 65 percent of graduates, and would be able to use data from students, faculty, families or social media sites to meet that goal.
The University of Pittsburgh, a state-related research school that awards about 4,300 undergraduate degrees each year, had a 46 percent response rate on its most recent survey of bachelor's degree recipients.
Pitt shows a 94 percent placement rate: 54 percent employed full time, 4 percent employed part time in positions related to studies, and 2 percent employed part-time in positions not related to their majors or minors. Twenty-two percent are continuing education full time; fewer than 1 percent are continuing education part time; 9 percent are employed and continuing education; 1 percent are in the military; and 1 percent are volunteering.
Duquesne University, a private school that graduates about 2,500 students a year, includes all undergraduate and graduate degree recipients, except law school graduates, in its outcome survey.
Typically, 25 to 30 percent of graduates respond, said Nicole Feldhues, Duquesne's director of career services. About 70 percent said they are employed; 30 percent are in graduate school.
Despite NACE's push for consistency, Koc cautions it would be a mistake to compare schools solely on such reports.
“Schools have different kinds of programs, different types of individuals,” Koc said.
Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer.