Is Job Placement Rate a Good Indicator of a College's QualityJob placement after graduation is an important step in anyone’s life. “All education and no job” is often a stumbling block on new graduates’ resumes. Of course, people still study simply for education’s sake itself, but that is not as common as it once was because of the changes in society during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Until certain aspects of society and the economy change, securing a job after graduation should be in each student’s “top five.” Necessarily, students must choose their fields of study based on societal need. It is not all bad news, however. Once students become secure in their current lives and are preparing for their future, they can go back to school and study things “for education’s sake.”

Many students enroll in a degree program because they wish to land a good job after graduation, and that means many applicants pay special attention to their chosen school’s job placement rate prior to submitting a formal application.

Some may believe that this placement rate is a significant measure of success because their ultimate goal is to leverage their college degree into a rewarding, lifelong career.

While this is somewhat true, it’s also important to understand that a college’s placement rate is only one measure of its overall quality.

Career Placement: Only One Metric of Many

Is Job Placement Rate a Good Indicator of a College's Quality?

Schools with a high job placement rate have good relationships with companies that are happy to hire their graduates. The schools’ education level and overall philosophy contribute to their graduates’ desirability as employees. It is reasonable to assume that a school with a high job placement rate provides students with both a rigorous curriculum and the ability to think critically. Employers are generally eager to hire such candidates. It is also reasonable to think that students at a particular school received on-the-job training during internships, co-operative opportunities, and practicums. These students likely also learn networking skills and would make good entry-level employees for businesses searching for their skill sets.

On the other hand, the placement rate may be somewhat deceiving. Many schools extend the “placement window” after graduation, sometimes making it as long as two years. A former student who is looking for work for two years likely will not be satisfied with the quality of their education, and they would certainly face significant financial struggles as they searched for a rewarding job. The other thing to consider is the type of job being landed by each student. It’s wrong to assume that every student who reports employment is doing so after landing a job in their chosen field. Some students may be employed part-time or full-time in unrelated, low-paying industries, but the placement rate wouldn’t show this type of information.

In 2019, 90.4% of students between 20 and 24 years of age, overall, secured a job at some point after graduation. That doesn’t include institutionalized adults or military personnel. The University of Washington released data in June, 2020, that showed it can take from three to six months for a graduate to find a job. That means any job and not just a job in the student’s field. As the article put it, even landing these “not-so-perfect” jobs is essential for survival on one’s own after graduation. The “dream job” in a student’s chosen field is often a year or more away. In some cases, such jobs never materialize.

Other times, students become disillusioned with their field either because there aren’t as many jobs in it as they thought or because they simply no longer like what they do. In these cases, the students may transition to a new field, and their “not-so-perfect” jobs sometimes even become their “dream jobs.” The University of Washington recommends that students who held a part-time job while studying keep that job and supplement it with other income.

The university also recommends that students do internships, paid or otherwise, to develop a strong resume. Their point is that students should do this both during school and shortly after graduation. For example, a student who is in the computer field might do 20 hours a week at a computer firm without pay while waiting tables 20 hours a week and manning the cash register at a cafe 20 hours a week. This is not an unusual occurrence even if the school the student attended is world-famous and well-regarded.

It must also be borne in mind that these internships and “placeholder jobs” count when universities and colleges list their job-placement scores. The scores don’t show “dream-job” placement. Still, it’s useful to know that a school prepares its students for survival as well as for their chosen fields.

Beyond Job Placement: Other Statistics Used to Demonstrate Quality

Is Job Placement Rate a Good Indicator of a College's Quality?

Career placement is a great statistic to check before choosing and applying to a specific university, but it doesn’t paint a clear picture of the school’s quality. In fact, it doesn’t even paint a clear picture of each student’s occupational satisfaction. There are other metrics that will more easily describe the school’s quality and how well its programs resonate with students.

The first of these statistics is the first-year student retention rate. This percentage rate shows how many first-year students came back to the school for a second year of study, and how many left the school either due to bad grades or because they transferred to a program that they considered better for their needs. The other metric worth considering is the school’s graduation rate. Typically, this is broken down into four-year, five-year, and six-year graduation percentages. If these percentages are high, it indicates that the vast majority of students stuck around, graduated on time, and moved on. If it is low, this indicates that many students transferred to other schools, dropped out, or didn’t find the program valuable.

Times Higher Education, or THE, ranks universities around the world according to their teaching, research, and impact. Some universities, such as Oxford in the United Kingdom, Heidelberg University in Germany, and Harvard University in the United States rank very highly in all three categories. Others rank very well in one and not as well in others. And, of course, some rank not-so-well in all three. Job placement would be considered part of the overall impact of the university. Additionally, long-term job placement in students’ chosen fields would count in that same category.

To rank highly in the research category, universities don’t just have to have lots of people studying various projects in different fields, although that does count. The quality of the performed research and its relevance to the betterment of society in a variety of ways both count more than just amount of research being performed. As an example, if a university’s only avenue of research were to find a cure for cancer, and the researchers there were successful, that would be among the most important discoveries in the history of medicine. Surely, that success would dwarf even the most meticulous research on lesser topics. Universities must guard against the, “We’re important!” problem and not overvalue and overestimate their relevance, cultural or otherwise.

By hiring the best professors and developing the best curricula, universities boost their teaching rank. Working with the Wall Street Journal, THE has compiled a list of the universities with the best teachers in the United States. As one might expect, the list contains “the usual suspects” of what even the public considers great universities. These include Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology, Yale University, Brown University, and many others.

Having great teachers at a university can also contribute both to its societal impact and research scores. By instructing the great minds of tomorrow, these teachers change society for the better little by little. By contributing their talents to others’ research projects and also performing their own research, they can change society in both small and big ways. By “paying it forward,” these great teachers can inspire their students to do their own research or to apply their talents for the good of society as a whole, thus doubling their impact.

As can be seen, many of the great characteristics of the very best universities cannot be assigned a number or a rank. These intangible characteristics are often the greatest contribution that the university provides. As a result of a university’s impact, whether through teaching, research, or these intangibles, alumni and other interested parties often contribute large sums of money to the university. This, in turn, supports the great teachers, curious students, and forward-thinking researchers of all types to do better by the university. It’s easy to see the cyclical nature of a great university’s contributions to society.

The Applicability of U.S. News and World Report Rankings

The American publication U.S. News and World Report annually ranks all colleges and universities in a wide variety of categories. Even great universities like Harvard don’t rank at the very top of every category. Students would do well to look at these rankings, balance them with their financial needs and the affordability of the applicable tuition costs, and choose schools that fit them.

For example, if a student wanted to go to the best schools in the country for computer science, Harvard doesn’t even rank in the top 10. The No. 1 school in the country is Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Close behind it is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Stanford University and even public universities like the University of Michigan all rank before Harvard. Conversely, no one would go to Carnegie Mellon University for medicine. People go to Harvard.

In the 21st century, too, especially during the pandemic, remote learning is more important than ever before. Some schools offer online education while others don’t. Some online education is of dubious quality. Famous degree mills like Robertstown University or Trinity Southern University, which once granted a Master of Business Administration to the attorney general’s cat “for an extra $100,” are obviously substandard. There are, however, many seemingly legitimate colleges and universities out there that prey upon unsuspecting students.

They boast of spectacular graduation and job-placement rates and claim outstanding academic credentials from official-sounding accrediting bodies like the Accreditation Council for Distance Education, which are all fake. A real university or college, no matter how famous or not famous, will have accreditation from one of the six regional accrediting organizations, which are the:

  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

Students who go to junior colleges for two years should select those recognized by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which is every bit as real as the organizations who accredit four-year institutions.

One Metric Among Many: Consider More than Just the Placement Rate

Is Job Placement Rate a Good Indicator of a College's Quality?

Career placement is an important part of attending a strong university, but it’s not the only way to judge whether a university’s programs are of the highest quality. In addition to researching a school’s job placement rate, make sure to find out how many students come back for a second year at the school, and look into how many students actually graduate within four, five, or six years of their initial enrollment.

Conclusion

No one category or feature of a university tells the whole story. Students considering a school should look at it in totality and make well-informed decisions about their future. The right university is only part of the equation. Students should be curious and ask pertinent questions of the school’s staff during the application process.

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