The ARC/STSA Board of Directors recently reviewed the thresholds for, and beginning August 1, 2016, implemented changes to, the graduate and employer outcomes in response to in-depth data analysis and solicited program director feedback. The new formatting, new administration timelines and updated satisfaction rates for surveys are intended to streamline the process, making it faster and less cumbersome for program directors.
For Jeff Bidwell, program director at Madisonville Community Technical College, and Jinnie Gardiner, program director at North-West College Long Beach, the most significant change is that graduate surveys can now be administered right after graduation and employer surveys at any time after employment. For graduate surveys, program directors used to be faced with the task of locating graduates many months after graduation. As Gardiner explained, it can be difficult to locate people so many months after graduation since many move in the months that follow.
According to Grant Wilson, program director at Calhoun Community College, employer survey feedback is a tremendous aid to regularly improving his program. Looking toward the future, the ability to gain this information as soon as possible will prove a tremendous and positive change. After all, the sooner program directors know what areas employers think recent graduates need to improve on, the sooner they can work to implement the necessary improvements to the program and better prepare students for life as a practitioner after graduation.
The new timelines for both surveys will increase the flexibility of the program director. “Because program directors are so busy during the school year,” Bidwell explained, “Oftentimes, it would be a full year before the surveys went out and we’d be scrambling to get responses back on time to do annual reports.” This increased flexibility will allow directors to distribute surveys in a time frame that works for them.
For other program directors, including Karyn Songer at Concorde Career College – Aurora, the retention rate decreasing from 70 to 60 percent was the most significant of the changes. When a program falls below the required rate or retention, the program director is required to describe a plan of action in their annual report to fix the issue over the course of several years. This new benchmark — described by Wilson as one that is “very reachable” — is useful in light of small cohort sizes, which can easily fall short of the standards with the loss of only a couple students, most of whom are not leaving their programs due to academic shortfalls.
“This has been an ongoing struggle when talking about outcomes,” said Songer. “Especially in today’s climate, it can be difficult to predict or control how many students will leave because it happens for many reasons. It’s easier to deal with students who are struggling academically because plans can be put in place to prevent or help this. It’s difficult when students leave for personal reasons because it’s harder to plan for or prevent.”
While all program directors will surely be impacted differently, all of the changes are welcomed. They demonstrate ARC/STSA’s willingness to consider what educators are going through and act to make improvements that will ultimately benefit individual communities throughout the nation.