College grads may be struggling to find work, but not those from schools such as Thomas College in Waterville, Maine, and Capitol College in Laurel, Md. These schools put their money where their mouth is by offering guarantees that provide students with free classes or financial support if they can’t find jobs after graduation.
Though job-guarantee programs have existed for more than a decade, these programs are gaining attention in light of data published by the Pew Charitable Trusts that shows approximately one-third of recent four-year college graduates are either unemployed or in positions that only require a high school education.
Job-guarantee programs aren’t a free pass for students, but they do ensure the school has a vested stake in what happens after turning the tassel. Here’s how these programs work.
The student obligation
Job guarantees sound like a marketing gimmick, but schools that offer them rarely end up losing money. Every year, approximately 40 percent of Thomas College students qualify for the job guarantee, but only 9 percent have come back for classes or loan payments. Capitol College has graduated approximately 1,000 eligible students since starting their program in 1999, but only five have cashed in on free courses, while MTI College — a Sacramento, Calif., vocational school — has a different approach. MTI offers to reimburse employers up to $3,000 if a graduate is terminated within 30 calendar days of employment. But it hasn’t paid out anything since starting the program in 2010, despite the fact that about 80 percent of the campus qualifies.
“It helps an employer to know that they have nothing to lose if they hire one of our guaranteed graduates,” says Toni Lewis, career services director at MTI College.
A major reason schools aren’t hemorrhaging money is because job-guarantee programs require students to extensively prepare for the working world. Thomas and Capitol colleges each require enrollees to maintain a 2.75 GPA or higher, complete some “college-sponsored work experience” such as an internship, work with the college’s career services office and prove they’ve tried to find employment. Capitol College also requires job-guarantee enrollees to attend career-day activities and career seminars and get involved in a campus organization.
“I think (students) create their own good luck because they’re hard-working students, but at the same time, we spend a lot of time making sure that they’re ready for the interview process, that they’ve got something on their resume that really counts,” says James D. Libby, academic dean of Thomas College. “(Our job-guarantee program) works well because we’re working at it.”
The college obligation
How much the college is working on a student’s behalf is a question anyone eyeing job-guarantee programs should ask, says Capitol College president Michael Wood.
“(Our) guarantee is if you don’t get that job within 90 days, the payback from the college is that you get to take up to an additional 36 credit hours,” he says. “If you’re short some skill set or you need a little bit deeper understanding in a particular field to qualify for the job you want, you can take those courses for free until you get it.”
Some schools don’t pay out so quickly. Thomas College offers unemployed alumni up to two years of classes or one year of payments on undergraduate federal student loans, but they’ll need to wait six months after graduation to be eligible.
Tips for students without college-sponsored programs
For those students attending schools that don’t offer these job-guarantee programs, there are still ways to get ahead. One way to increase a student’s chance for finding post-college work is to educate them about better job-hunting strategies, says Donald Asher, author of “Cracking the Hidden Job Market: How to Find Opportunity in Any Economy.”
“If you’re going to look for work by looking for posted openings (without any networking), I don’t care how perfect you are, I don’t care how good your grades are, you’re going to be looking for work for a very long time,” he says.
In other words, networking can be vital to finding a job. It’s one great way to get hiring managers to look at resumes. A study by talent management firm Right Management shows that new hires are nearly twice as likely to land a job through personal networks than through online job boards. Instead of letting your credentials speak for themselves, Asher recommends using your school’s career center, alumni network, contacts from social media and work experience you’ve completed, and your friends’ contacts to meet people in your field.
“Get out of the house. Have coffee with people. Meet them where they work,” he says. “If you can just get 10 of your friends to take you to work and say, ‘Hey Boss, here’s my friend,’ that technique, low-tech as heck, is way more effective than applying for positions in your pajamas at 2 o’clock in the morning.”