Evanson: The college job placement façade

BY KEITH EVANSON | MAY 15, 2015 5:00 AM

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Congratulations, 2015 University of Iowa graduates, you did it. You’ve finally reached the end of a long line of final exams, term papers, and all those all-nighters that went along with them. You now have a piece of paper that you can show to people to illustrate your greatness. Perhaps you will frame it behind your desk at your office. Wait, how do you get an office?

The statistics show most UI grads will quickly find an “office” of some variety. Of the estimated 5,085 spring-commencement graduates from the university, 94.7 percent will be either employed or studying at the graduate level within seven months.

These numbers, provided by the UI Pomerentz Career Center, are fantastically positive — almost too positive. Virtually everyone is winning the job lottery. And it’s not just the UI, either. The other two major public universities in Iowa boast similar job-placement rates. Iowa State University’s is the exact same as the UI’s, and University of Northern Iowa’s is even higher at a tremendous rate of 97 percent.

There’s a problem here. Not only are these numbers implausibly high but they also lack clarity.

What does job placement even mean? It’s actually quite broad. “Placed” simply means that the graduate has either acquired a job or was accepted to a graduate school. Job placement doesn’t mean the graduates found jobs in their related field of study.

If you receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology and seven months later your occupation is a server at Applebee’s, you are counted as being placed. There’s nothing with wrong with working at Applebee’s (or any other restaurant for that matter), but it’s not a job the college graduate paid thousands of dollars to attend college to get. It’s not only schools in Iowa that do this. Colleges all across the country pad statistics in their favor. In this metric, part-time jobs and full-time jobs are counted identically. The surveys used to compile the data are at a limited capacity, being just a fraction of all the total graduates. It’s a dishonest statistic.

But I can’t blame colleges for flaunting it. We may love and cherish education, but in the end, colleges are big business. UI’s chief executive officer, President Sally Mason, makes $525,828 a year. Reported human-resource data show the annual average salary of a professor in Iowa City makes a median of $80,259 (and even the lowest 10 percent will make $49,350). Student loans from departing and graduating students will help contribute to these payrolls for the foreseeable future — regardless of what job it comes from.

Universities are their own PR machines. They advocate for themselves on the basis that they are successful. On official websites, glossy pamphlets, and social-media platforms, they will frame themselves as supreme. Job-placement statistics, however flawed they may be, are just a small piece of this promotion. It helps parents feel at ease paying thousands of dollars to send their children to college. Prospective and current students feel comfortable thinking their college experience will translate to immediate career success after graduation. But a direct causation between finding the job you want and the college you attend doesn’t exist. Ultimately, it’s up to you.

And like the place you just graduated from, endorse yourself as a quality candidate. A college education is a fantastic thing, but they can’t go to a job interview for you.

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