News

Preserving the Integrity and Quality of Placement Outcomes

April, 2014
Dear Member Institution:
In order to enhance access to employment opportunities for graduates and completers, as well as to comply with accreditation requirements regarding student success and achievement, ACICS institutions develop relationships with employers through the formation of advisory panels, direct outreach and other activities. The relationships benefit students in that they contribute to establishing clinical placements, externships, practicums, and employment opportunities.

Institutions utilize a variety of activities and programs to maintain effective relationships with prospective employers of their graduates, including establishing professional interpersonal relationships with employer representatives, inviting employers to participate in career fairs or sending students and graduates to career fairs hosted by the employers.

Some colleges have taken additional steps to fortify or enhance their relationships with employers, including offering financial incentives for the hiring of graduates. In some cases, institutions have offered cash to cover the so-called “on boarding” costs of the employer associated with orienting a new employee to the workplace. In exchange, the employer may be required, through a contract, to retain the new employee for a specified minimum number of days.

The Council recognizes that contemporary economic conditions constrain the demand for labor, that many employers are reluctant to add new employees, and that the available jobs can attract numerous applicants. In that context, adding financial incentives to the mix may be an attractive and expedient way to secure placement opportunities that otherwise would go to applicants who are not graduates of the institution. While ACICS has not adopted specific standards addressing this practice, a number of considerations and expectations are applicable. As always, the primary concern of Council is the preservation of institutional quality and integrity, while providing flexibility for innovation and entrepreneurship. The salient considerations are as follows:

1. The inherent value of the education and training to prospective employers. That is, if prospective employers know about the skills acquisition and pre-employment training received by students, they will more likely consider the graduate for available job openings. In essence, when the employer makes the hiring decision primarily based on the merits of the prospective employee, including his or her job related skills, interpersonal demeanor, and related job-place experience, the quality and integrity of the institution speaks for itself.

Introducing another factor -- the employer’s cost of hiring the graduate – implies that considerations above and beyond the merits of the graduate’s skills should be weighed in the hiring decision. Legitimizing those additional factors may serve to diminish the perceived value of the education and undermine the credibility of quality assurance.

2. Alignment with existing standards. The ACICS Criteria Glossary specifically references the relationship between the institution and employers as an element of effective campus-level planning and operations:

Employer Satisfaction. The level of employer satisfaction is a required element of the Campus Effectiveness Plan. Employer satisfaction and the level of satisfaction are defined by the institution based upon information collected on a regular basis from employers who have, or might, hire graduates from the programs offered by the institution. Recommended information includes a survey of local employers as well as non-local employers who have hired graduates. Satisfaction questions should cover different aspects of career preparation in general (such as professionalism, foundational and soft skills) as well as specific skills in the particular field and the overall satisfaction of the employer with the preparation of graduates provided by the institution.

The intent of the review of employer satisfaction as a mandatory element of the CEP is to evaluate the quality and integrity of the institution’s education program relative to workforce needs.
The offer of financial incentives to employers who participate in the employer satisfaction surveys may serve to skew the results and diminish the credibility of the feedback from the workforce community.

3. Alignment with placement definitions. ACICS has revisited and revised its placement standards to make them more robust and defensible:

Placement Definition - Employment in the field of study or in a related field: The position is either
a. Included on the list of job titles published by the institution for which the program prepares students,
b. It requires the use of the skills learned in the student’s program as a predominant component of the job, or
c. The student attests to the benefit of the training received as a catalyst in obtaining or maintaining the position.

Length of Employment: For graduates placed in traditional jobs, the intention is that employment will be continuing and/or sustainable.

Based on this definition, ACICS institutions may derive little benefit from placements related to employer financial incentives if the placement event turns out to be unsustainable or discontinuous. If the employer retains the new employee only long enough to fulfill the terms of the agreement with the institution, the placement event would be disallowed in terms of fulfilling the institution’s placement rate.

Conclusion: While the practice of paying employers financial incentives to hire graduates of ACICS institutions is not necessarily widespread or long-standing, it is an element of the placement management process that has attracted attention and scrutiny. Balancing the needs for innovation and competitive success against the values of quality and integrity is often delicate and complex; however, the value of a new practice should be measured against its explicit alignment with formal, published standards as well as its defensible value to the student. ACICS will continue to monitor the use of this practice by member institutions to determine if more formal guidance may be required in the form of policy.

Regards,

Albert C. Gray, President
Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools