Technical Colleges Debate Tying Funding to Job Placement

In advance of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget address tomorrow evening, last week’s release of plans to tie state funding for technical colleges to performance measures has generated a great deal of discussion. One of the most discussed portions of his plan (press release here) is his proposal to tie funding to job placement rates, particularly in high-demand fields. Most colleges seem to support the idea of getting better data on job placement rates, but using that measure in an accountability system has sparked controversy.

Madison Area Technical College came out last week in opposition to the Governor’s proposal, as covered by a recent article in the Capital Times. The article mentions comments by provost Terry Webb that job placement rates are partially influenced by factors outside the college’s control, such as job availability, location, and individual preferences. These concerns are certainly real, especially given the difficulty of tracking students who may leave the state in search of a great job opportunity.

However, Gateway Technical College came out in support of funding based on job placement rates, according to an article in the Racine Journal Times (hat tip to Noel Radomski for the link). Gateway president Bryan Albrecht supports the plan on account of the college’s high job placement rates among graduates (85%, among those who responded to a job placement survey with a 78% response rate, although only 55% were employed in their field of study). The college seems confident in its ability to change programs as needed in order to keep up with labor market demands, even in the face of a difficult economy in southeast Wisconsin.

The differing reactions of these two technical colleges show the difficulty of developing a performance-based funding system which works for all stakeholders. Madison College, along with three other technical colleges in the state, has liberal arts transfer programs with University of Wisconsin System institutions. These students may graduate with an associate’s degree and not immediately enter the labor market, or even successfully transfer before getting the degree. The funding system, which will be jointly developed by the Wisconsin Technical College System and the state’s powerful Department of Administration, should keep those programs in mind so to not unfairly penalize students with dual vocational/transfer missions.

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

3 thoughts on “Technical Colleges Debate Tying Funding to Job Placement”

  1. Robert: Excellent suggestion at the end of your blog. WI Tech Colleges, if they haven’t done so already, should establish a relationship with the National Student Clearinghouse so they can track students who leave and re-enter at another college or university. Completion can be defined in so many ways, as you aptly noted, which gets more complicated for open-access and less-selective colleges and universities. Thanks!

  2. WTCS does participate in the National Student Clearinghouse so enrollment can be tracked across colleges. However, they don’t fully participate in the Degree Verify service, which means that graduation records cannot be observed by researchers. This makes examining eventual attainment rates for WTCS starters difficult.

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