Interpreting THEC’s Annual Reports
Every year the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) compiles reports on student outcomes and demographics for authorized institutions. THEC has been compiling these reports on Nashville Software School since 2016-2017 and last month posted their annual report on NSS for 2019-2020. Given the impact of the pandemic on the reporting year, we thought it was a good time to walk through the nuances of this report. While we’ll be focusing on the 2019-2020 report, this information applies to all of our annual reports from THEC.
These annual reports are regulated by the state of Tennessee and align with the state’s fiscal year, July through June. While the state of Tennessee does a better job than most states in making these numbers visible to prospective students, it is not a perfect system. With the different types of schools, how could it be? But with all authorized institutions adhering to the same reporting structure, it still allows for prospective students to evaluate and compare similar schools.
The annual report includes a breakdown of each program offered by NSS as well as an overall column that combines student outcomes and demographics for all programs. Let’s walk through the student outcomes category. It may be helpful to view the current report as you read the rest of this post.
30% of our students in 2019-2020 were still enrolled on June 30, 2020.
Students who were/are active in a program during the state’s fiscal year are included in the annual report. The students counted as “still enrolled” are mainly in bootcamps that span across the end of a state fiscal year (e.g. start in May with a completion date in November). A program with a higher percentage still enrolled, simply means that more of those courses run across fiscal years. We also have a small percentage of students who do not finish on their original completion date, but restart the program. If they're an active student on June 30th, they are also counted as still enrolled.
Why are there several programs with zero enrollment?
Once a new program is authorized by THEC, the program appears on the annual report. However, we may not have started a class in that new program within the fiscal year. Of note in this year’s report is the recent certification in late 2020 (i.e. after the end of the 2019-2020 reporting period) of the online versions of our programs so we could continue to offer online programs after the end of the COVID-19 emergency waiver. The online programs are included in the 2019-2020 report even though they were not offered until the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
Completions and Withdrawals
The withdrawal rate for 2019-2020 was 5.5%.
The completion rate for 2019-2020 was 90.8%.
Completions and withdrawals are fairly self-explanatory, but both percentages exclude special circumstance withdrawals. Special circumstance withdrawals include things like health and family emergencies, military service, and job relocation.
These numbers speak to the admissions process and the aptitude and persistence of the students who are accepted into our programs. We’re proud to have a low withdrawal rate and a high completion rate.
Before looking at the numbers, it’s helpful to understand how placement rates are calculated and the impact of when a cohort graduates. The number of placeable graduates is based on the students that completed their program during the state’s fiscal year, July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020. Regardless of whether or not they graduated on July 1st, 2019 or June 30th, 2020, a graduate has until September 30, 2020 to find employment and be counted as placed. (More on this later, but it’s important to note that NSS does not promote or push this statistical deadline with graduates. A job search is stressful enough.)
How does this deadline impact NSS? Our first class that graduates in the fiscal year is in early August. Our last class to graduate is in late June. Those that graduate in early August have over a year to find their job, while those that graduate in June have three months. While this somewhat evens itself out given the number of graduates we have throughout the year, it has always put us at a slight disadvantage (i.e. reduced reported placement rates) given the number of students we graduate in June.
The timing impact on placement rates is minimized in years where the tech job market is hot and average job search times for graduates are relatively short (e.g. 90 days or less). In a year like 2020, when the pandemic hit in March and the job market dramatically slowed for several months, the impact is huge, since average job search times became significantly longer than anytime in the past several years.
So it’s important to know that while the report does reflect placement rates, and does provide a way to compare authorized programs across the state of Tennessee, it doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the final placement numbers for each class.
What if a graduate gets a job after the reporting period?
Job searches can be unpredictable. For some, it happens right around graduation, for others, it takes months. If a graduate is placed after the reporting period, they are never counted as placed by THEC since THEC never revisits placement stats after the cutoff for each reporting period. Regardless, the NSS team continues to work with all of our graduates until they find their first job in tech...no matter how long it takes. We also continue to update our internal cohort by cohort placement statistics to reflect the full actual placement rates. These are critical numbers for us since placement rate is the single most critical metric in our own measurement of NSS’s performance.
The economic slowdown in 2020 due to the pandemic definitely negatively impacted our 2019-2020 placement numbers. But we're also happy to say that we started seeing a huge swing in the other direction starting in December 2020 and last month was our biggest month of placements ever with 47!
71.8% of our students who completed their program in 2019-2020 were placed in-field by September 30, 2020.
With NSS having a track record of placements around 90%, this may seem like a steep drop - until you factor in the pandemic. Our classes most impacted by the pandemic were the ones that graduated In March-June of 2020. The six cohorts that graduated consisted of 3 web development cohorts, 2 data analytics cohorts, and 1 data science cohort.
Internal tracking placement rates as of September 30, 2020 for the cohorts that graduated March-June 2020:
- Web Development: 40-62% (today they are at 76-82%)
- Data Analytics: 41-65% (today they are at 82-88%)
- Data Science: 46% (today they are at 80%)
As the economy continues to reopen this year, and given the growth of the Nashville tech job market, we expect our placement rates to return to their pre-pandemic level of around 90%. For graduates still facing extended job searches, we will continue to support them through ongoing training and career development resources.
The period since March 2020 has been truly extraordinary. To understand some of the initiatives we undertook in support of our graduates once the job market slowed dramatically due to COVID-19, see this blog post, and also this blog post.