Job Guarantees and Free Shipping

I had a very thought-provoking response to my blog post about free shipping from a student last week. You can read that post and his comment by clicking here. It raised several issues I hear about regularly, so I thought I’d share my response with all of you.

Hello Angel. If you believe people don’t really want education, but instead the job that comes at the end, then free education would be the equivalent of free shipping. People don’t really want shipping. They want the product being shipped. Shipping is just the means to the end. So in your view, I’d want to give away the education and charge you for the job you get as a result of the education. More specifically, I’d want a slice of the boost in pay that comes with your education over the course of your working life. Doable in theory, a collections nightmare to implement in practice.

The Udacity guarantee you reference is fairly narrow in scope and expansive in what it considers employment. As you noted, it’s limited to four programs in high demand fields. It also considers things like free-lancing or being offered a grader job at Udacity as employment. My guess is the company is using the job guarantee as a means of trying to convince their potential customer base that their approach is legit. Nothing wrong with that, but universities occupy a different place in the market.

Despite dissatisfaction among some commentators with the recent post-graduation experiences of some students, the data continues to show that a university degree is a great investment for the typical graduate: it lowers the risk of unemployment and substantially increases life-time earnings over the average person who does not have a degree. So, we don’t have the “proof of concept” problem that new entrants like Udacity do. Our product more than pays for the initial investment of the typical student.

Universities also offer a broader portfolio of programs that appeal to a wider set of students who want different things out of their college experience (not just a job) than operations like Udacity. It would be difficult for any university to offer job guarantees to all their graduates. Not every degree program has a strong connection to a specific job and defining what constitutes an appropriate employment outcome across a broad set of degree programs would be tough.

This doesn’t mean we don’t care about the post-graduation experiences of our students. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I care. We have professional development courses, career coaches, and innovative offerings like the Integrative Business Program to help transition you to a good job. Our data shows that about 70 percent of our graduating seniors report they either have a job or are heading to graduate school when they fill out The First Destination Survey. This is done before they graduate, not six months out.

That said, I’m still not satisfied. I want this number to be much higher and have toyed with a different idea: If you are graduating and have yet to find your next challenge, the college would allow you take up to three extra undergraduate courses in the next semester after you graduate for free. There are a few details we would need to work out and it would probably take an act of the Florida legislature to allow us to do this, but like the Udacity plan, it would underscore our commitment to your success. Unlike the Udacity plan, it would also require the student to continue to show their commitment to their future by completing the additional coursework. It’s not free-shipping or an employment guarantee, but it just might be the opportunity some of our students need to  fully realize their dreams.

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