Friday, April 09, 2010


Job Guaranteed or Your Money Back!

An alert reader sent me this story from Time. Apparently, Lansing Community College (MI) is guaranteeing students in certain pre-career certificate programs that they'll get jobs within a year of graduation, or they'll get their tuition back.

Gotta admit, I never thought of that. Of course, there's a reason for that.

First, credit where it's due. It takes what, in a less enlightened time, we used to call "balls of steel" for a community college in Michigan -- Michigan -- to guarantee anybody employment in anything. The college is hedging its bets somewhat; as the story notes,

The new money-back guarantee will apply to the four most in-demand technical jobs in the area: call-center specialists, pharmacy technicians, quality inspectors and computer machinists. The average pay for these jobs in 2008 ranged from $12.10 an hour (call-center specialists) to $15.72 (computer machinists).
The cost for one of these six-week training courses — which don't come with a degree but rather a certificate granting qualification in a specific area — averages about $2,400.
The money-back guarantee is only open to a total of 61 students in Lansing's pilot program. And the applicants are expected to be élite and competitive, says Ellen Jones, the college's director of public affairs. (All must have a high school degree.) Those who are accepted can't miss any class or assignments. They have to go through employability skill training and attend job fairs, and after they complete one of the six-week training courses, they must prove that they're actively applying for jobs.

So okay, this isn't quite at the level of covering, say, English majors. But still, for central Michigan, this is not to be sneezed at.

I can certainly see the appeal for students. If you're unemployed and looking at the prospect of staying unemployed for a long time, the idea of job readiness in six weeks is attractive. The money-back guarantee gets around the fear of student loans, or of being scammed.

And these are vocational certificate programs, not degree programs. The whole point of a vocational certificate is to get a job, so there's no issue of impurity.

Still, the whole idea makes me uneasy.

Part of it is because the college hasn't made any arrangements with any local employers to actually guarantee spots, so it's essentially bluffing. Average pay figures from just before the economy went off the cliff may or may not reflect what's actually available now. Even if they're accurate, the job market is very much an independent variable. The college can do a great job with the parts it can control, and the students may still hit the wall simply as a function of market conditions. For a college to have to issue a pile of refunds at exactly the moment when it's least economically able to do so strikes me as dangerous, if not crazy.

And then there's precedent.

Once students in other programs and at other colleges get wind of this, look out. They'll start demanding similar guarantees elsewhere. No college can guarantee a future job market in anything, but that won't stop the demand. Colleges with relatively little to lose -- because they're circling the drain anyway -- will take fliers on irresponsible guarantees, creating market pressure on the more responsible ones. Over time, I don't like where any of this leads.

I've mentioned before my experience at Proprietary U, where I saw the grads go abruptly from "in demand" to "out of luck" through no fault of the institution. That happens. In fact, I'd suggest, there's an excellent argument to be made that the best long-term job preparation is a transfer program. I've seen some programs, especially in allied health, manage to satisfy both by building in stop-out points on the way to a degree: leave the Nursing track early, and you can still find work as a CNA. That makes sense to me, especially if the program is structured to allow the newly employed student to come back and finish while working. But it's not a quick fix, and it's not a guarantee.

Still, any ray of hope in central Michigan is welcome. Good luck, Lansing. I wouldn't have tried it, but I've been wrong before...

Hey that's my school! :)
I have to admit, when we (faculty) first heard about this initiative, we were like "what is this President THINKING?! Does he not know we're in Michigan?! LCC will be bankrupted!" But that was before all the details were out. Apparently, the computer machinist job is the one job that the MI auto industry is having trouble filling, and there are over 50 openings in the state for that kind of work (according to Michigan Works, the state employment service). When I read the details of the program though, the call-center job and quality inspectors seems like a job that you can already get with just a HS diploma. I'm surprised that so many people were interested in paying $2500 to learn how to do this...
I have to admit, while it might be bad precedent in some ways, it's appealing in others: students lose the chance to ask for that refund if they don't show up every day and don't turn in every assignment. I think a lot of instructors would love having that kind of incentive for their students. Add in one more caveat (the student must maintain a 3.7 GPA, maybe?) and I can see the potential for this sort of practice to cause grade deflation--for once, ENCOURAGED by the administration. Can't give out too many As, or we'll be on the hook for all those jobs!
some of this is a great idea (Sapience hit on this a bit). what if you offered a cash back incentive to students based upon performance and/or attendance?

if a student could get a 5% discount on next semester's tuition if they have perfect attendance this semester, would that be a great program? 10%?

also, what about performance based incentives? if you get an 'A' in the class, do you get 5% back on your tuition for that class? if you can get your associates/bachelors with a 3.8 or greater, can you get a discount on your grad-school tuition (or your bachelors in the case of an associates)?

the world should [ideally] work in a system where performance/ability is more valued than seniority (and seat-time). while i think the whole job thing is a joke (due to the type of jobs being locked-in), the concept of forcing students to perform at a higher level is interesting.

students should strive to get an 'A', but GPA doesn't mean a thing to most people (aside from med-school students, nurses, and law school students). a 3.2+ GPA is good enough to get into grad school (at least it was at my school). and if you're not going to grad school, an 'A' over a 'B' doesn't mean a thing. once you're in the 'real world', no one cares about your GPA, and it certainly has no reflection on earnings potential. a program designed to make students value an 'A' is an interesting idea.
Given my experience with call centers, I'm shocked that there's actually any training involved. How long does it take to teach somebody to rigidly follow a script and not deviate no matter the situation?
If nothing else, this is brilliant marketing.

I don't see much of a slippery slope problem; Proprietary U is generally a system for transferring Federal dollars to high Admin via Pell grants and student loans.
But what about the point that Anon@4:42am makes, that students don't NEED to go to college for some of these jobs. Call center? We have students here who do that while they're in college....

Also, doesn't this just reinforce that the *only* reason to go to college is to get a job, not to become a better participant in a democracy, or to improve yourself?
We really don't need to "reinforce" that reasoning; our high schools and their leaders have completely given up on the idea that any of their graduates would be able to hold down employment upon graduation.
program for CNC machinist and couldn't be happier. I have a B.A. from U of M and have still been unemployed for the past year. What this program offers is a specific skill and assistance with a job search. The whole money back thing is simply a gimick to get people talking, personally I pray that I don't have to accept the refund and don't expect to.

It's time our universities start using some more forward thinking. U of M offered absolutely nothing to me as far as employment assistance, I really feel this is as important to today's student as their actual education. If universities want to continue charging exorbidant tuition amounts they need to sweeten the pot a little. I see this type of program as the wave of the future. Thank you LCC for thinking out of the box.
A choice between job guarantee and money-back guarantee is not really difficult. I think it's a win-win situation for college students. The only problem is the assurance of getting quality education for any in-demand jobs like pharmacy technicians and call center agents.

Thanks for sharing, by the way. It's so enlightening!
Ramshyam invites graduates in any discipline with good communication skills to join its growing team of Customer Support Agents, Team Leaders and Quality Supervisors at its global delivery facilities.
There is a continuing demand for call-center agents, whether working as part of a central group or as a stay at home agent. Regardless, the call-center agent should have realistic expectations regarding salary and benefits given the competition with offshore call-centers.
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