We see where a New York woman has taken the extraordinary step of suing the college where she earned her bachelor’s degree. Trina Thompson, 27, recently filed a lawsuit against Monroe College seeking to recover the $70,000 she spent on tuition.
Thompson was awarded a degree last April in information technology. She is suing the school based on her failure to attain employment in her field of study, insisting that the college’s Office of Career Advancement did not provide her with the leads and career advice the school had promised.
Not too surprisingly, Monroe College took strong exception to being sued on such grounds. College spokesman Gary Axelbank used very strong language in responding to the claim, stating that suit was “completely without merit” and did not deserve further consideration.
We suspect that the response of many other school spokespeople would be similar if their school were to be served with such a legal claim. We also have to say that Axelbank is essentially right on legal grounds.
Certainly a college cannot be held liable simply because one of its graduates cannot find employment. Even if the student successfully completed her academic program and was awarded a diploma, a degree is not a job guarantee, certainly not in this job market.
But while Monroe’s response might be expected, it is interesting to note that there are colleges who take this matter to heart. In fact, one small college in Maine, Thomas College, has what it calls its “Thomas Promise.”
Yes, this school stands behind the education it provides and insists that it will help graduates find a job in their profession. And the school backs it up with real dollars.
Thomas College is in Waterville, Maine, sharing the town with one of the nation’s top small liberal arts schools, Colby College. For ten years now Thomas has made a special promise to its graduates: a guaranteed job after graduation.
And we are not talking about summer fill in, part-time work. We mean a real job in the student’s chosen field of study.
If a student is unable to find a job by graduation, he or she continues to meet with a college career advisor to find a permanent job. If the student does not find such a job within six months of graduation, then Thomas College will pay the first year of the student’s subsidized federal loans or until they find employment, whichever comes first.
Perhaps even more amazingly, if a graduate finds employment but does not like their chosen profession, he or she may return to Thomas to study tuition-free. The offer includes the costs of up to two additional undergraduate years to take more courses or half of the graduate courses required to complete a Master’s degree program.
The school does set forth two criteria that students must meet to be eligible. You do have to earn at least a 2.75 grade point average and you must, during your undergraduate years at school, do an internship.
Both requirements make sense. You cannot simply skate by, you need to show decent academic progress. And doing an internship just might be one of the most valuable aspects of any college program as it gives students first hand experience working in their chosen field.
Colleges Should Deliver the Goods
The promise represents an amazing commitment but clearly the school works hard on behalf of graduates. Thomas has a placement rate of better than 90% for the ten years of the program. In 2008, in a normal job market year, the school’s placement rate was 96 percent.
Of course, Maine is a bit unusual as only one in three Mainers has a college degree. So, graduates certainly have enormous advantages when it comes to applying for work.
Though the school is the only one we know of making such promise, the steps taken by Thomas are definitely more in line with what one would expect if colleges were to operate within the business sector. Standing behind a product is something we have come to expect especially if that product represents a significant purchase dollar-wise.
Monroe might be okay with its response in a legal sense. And it may be a bit unfair to pass any judgment on the suit; certainly it must be a collaborative effort between the student and the school when it comes to the job search process and we cannot fairly comment on the efforts made by the plaintiff.
But given the cost of a college education, the overall matter deserves serious thought. In fact, we think that it is time that every school stands behind the product it delivers.