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Were You Promised a Job in Your Field? Think Again.


Gaining access to improved employment opportunities is a great motivation to go to college. But what happens when the hard work you put into earning a degree doesn’t actually result in you finding a job? If you’re like many graduates, you may have to settle for feeling misled about the promises of employment that attracted you to higher education in the first place.

While post-graduation employment guarantees aren’t necessarily straight-up lies, they often misrepresent the reality of the situation. Here are a few tips on what those job promises you keep hearing about really mean.

Putting the Problem in Context

All too many students are currently dealing with college debt in depressed job markets. Why is this so common? One contributing factor could be that higher education institutions make grand promises that students will find jobs.

College admission offices are under lots of stress to boost enrollment and generate revenue. It’s only natural that they’d tell students about the potential benefits of signing up for classes. The real problem occurs when they over-represent the possible good outcomes and gloss over the more-commonplace alternatives.

A History of Overblown Claims?

This isn’t a new issue. Observers have worried about promises made by certain colleges for years.

Way back in 1980, for instance, educational specialists published articles about how community colleges offered vocational education while promising prospective students big economic payoffs. These studies brought up crucial questions about whether such claims were accurate or if vocational programs were even necessary to landing rewarding careers.

Fast forward to the early 2010s, and the problem had blossomed into an epidemic. One NPR article noted that although for-profit colleges and universities commonly promised training that would get students jobs, they didn’t actually have enough provable data to support these assertions.

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The Current Situation

Of course, state and federal government agencies have stepped in since these problems became more widely known. For-profit colleges that made false claims have been fined, taken to court and stripped of federal funding.

No solution is perfect, however. Legislative measures could fall short of protecting every student from all possible forms of misleading or inaccurate

claims. It’s incumbent on you to take your own precautions.

What Constitutes a Job Promise?

Not-for-profit schools may also attempt to lure students, but many take a more subtle approach. For instance, instead of promising you a job, a university may:

  • Advertise its partnerships with big companies,
  • Promote qualification programs that fulfill professional and vocational standards, or
  • Highlight or profile past students who found jobs through research projects or internship positions.

While these aren’t outright promises, they serve many of the same purposes. Some would argue that colleges need to tell students about their potential futures to boost admissions. Others might say this is a job best left to on-campus career services centers.

Taking Data With a Grain of Salt

Colleges have long been in the practice of publishing employment statistics for prior graduates. This is unlikely to change any time soon, so you need to learn how to decipher these figures.

Many employability statistics fail to reveal vital details. Knowing that 80 percent of graduates from your chosen degree program found jobs within a year tells you nothing about how hard they struggled to do so after getting their diplomas.

Statistics can also hide whether ex-students are employed within the field they studied for. Some may have had to take other jobs just to stay ahead of their debt. You usually don’t even know how many jobs they’ve been through or whether they’re working more than one simultaneously.

"Knowing 80% of graduates found jobs within a year tells you nothing about how hard they struggled to do so."

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The biggest omission inherent in such employment data is how much people actually make with their jobs. Without soliciting extremely sensitive personal data, there’s no way for a college to accurately determine whether people can pay off their loans after graduation. Even if you were privy to this kind of information, it wouldn’t do you much good because it still wouldn’t reveal what kind of repayment plans people have or how long they’ll remain indebted.

A Best-Case Scenario

Suppose your university struck a deal that it would provide a given company with employment candidates in exchange for funding, equipment or other resources. As with any business contract or partnership, such an arrangement would most likely include numerous ways for each party to back out if things seemed to be going sour.

For instance, if the company filed for bankruptcy or stopped hiring people, it wouldn’t matter that it gave preferential treatment to candidates from your school.

Your sweet job offer could be subject to the whims of some CEO you’ve never met, market fluctuations or a host of other random factors. That’s a lot of uncertainty to base thousands of dollars’ worth of debt on.

Dealing With Competition

Bear in mind that you’re not the only one who saw that shiny new job offer. Thousands of other prospective students found it just as attractive.

At a medium-sized college, you may be vying with hundreds of people for one coveted position.

Are Job Promises too Good to Be True?

As a general rule, you shouldn’t bank on anything after college. Even if you’ve already got a lot of course credit or you aren’t following a traditional path, it will take time to earn your degree.

Plenty of things could happen in the interim. From economic recessions and wars to new technological developments that make certain trades obsolete. The job market you enter upon graduation will look vastly different than what you might face today. You could also discover a new passion or hidden talent while you’re in school, which might considerably change your future plans or employment outlook.

The best thing to do is keep a level head and pursue something you’re enthusiastic about. Ultimately, the biggest factor in your employability isn’t whether you have a degree. What matters is your ability to apply your professional knowledge in a way employers value. If anything, you ought to pursue an education that teaches you how to build these kinds of skills and keep your options open.