What’s that they say about death and taxes?

I swear when I first saw the news I thought it was a hoax. Then when I saw this post on The Onion, I KNEW it couldn’t be true. But sure enough…it is true.

By now, you’ve probably also heard the story about Trina Thompson, a graduate of New York’s Monroe College who is suing the school for $72,000 because she was not able to find a job after graduating.

The seemingly odd move has raised eyebrows throughout the higher education industry with most agreeing that the lawsuit seems silly. While it’s true (or at least documented as being true) that higher education improves one’s chances of finding a job, and getting more education improves your chances of getting a better job, there’s certainly no guarantee…especially in uncertain economic times.

However, Slate’s The Big Money published a counterpoint yesterday that may not necessarily defend Trina Thompson’s suit, but certainly offers a scathing critique of Monroe College as well as proprietary colleges in general. The article state’s, “The very point of an institution like Monroe is to improve its students’ standing in the work force, but the irony is that in comparison with traditional institutions, Monroe seems to do quite badly at helping graduates make a living.”  The author Mark Gimein suggests that these schools are misleading the public by referring to themselves as colleges when really they’re vocational schools.

But regardless of what you call it, should you still be guaranteed a job after going to a vocational school? Hopefully the institution will provide you with the skills needed to land a job in your field of study, but ultimately the burden is on the individual not the institution.  This holds true for any type of institution whether private, public or for-profit.  However, what does Gimein’s story say about the perception of career colleges in general? Are they failing to fulfill their promise to students?  Not according to the Career College Association (CCA).  

According to the CCA’s site, “Seventy-six percent of those earning an occupational associate’s degree found employment in 2008, while 72 percent did so with academic associate’s degrees, 65 percent in bachelor’s degree programs and 76 percent in master’s degrees programs. Placement rates for certificate and diploma completers were over 72 percent.”

Not 100%.  But certainly a lot more people leaving with jobs than not.  As I wrote in a post a few months ago, even traditional institutions are struggling with finding jobs for students after graduation.  For career colleges, there may just be a branding or perception issue that they’ll need to combat.  To lump all of them together as Gimein seems to do is unfair and inaccurate.  

However, for most educational institutions, the question remains…what responsibility do you have to your students once they’ve graduated and how are you delivering value to them beyond the diploma? It’s not just the Trina Thompson’s of the world that are demanding more.  Many students today are thinking about the ROI associated with a college education and it’s getting tougher for institutions of all kinds to even attempt to prove it.

It may come down partially to managing expectations.  There are no guarantees in life.  But one thing is certain, your chances are better with an education than without.