School Job Placement: Can It Avoid Reproducing Social Inequalities?
by Julie E. Redline & James E. Rosenbaum - 2010
Background: Labor market entry is difficult for two-year college graduates. Job search literature focuses on personal connections, but disadvantaged students often lack useful contacts. Moreover, employers often don’t recognize and value two-year college credentials as much as bachelor’s degrees. Teacher contacts could help, but studies find that they can be biased against low achievers and minorities. Institutional school placement programs, which have the potential to reduce inequalities and help disadvantaged students in job search, have rarely been studied in the United States.
Research Question: How does schoolwide institutional job placement operate in a private two-year college with a highly developed program, and is it successful and equitable?
Research Design: This study uses a mixed-methods approach, including a qualitative case study and quantitative analysis of a single college’s administrative records.
Findings: We find that this college created institutional job links that are different from other programs studied in the United States. It equitably serves most students and is unrelated to achievement or race. Although it does not improve students’ postcollege earnings, it does improve the skill relevance of participants’ postcollege jobs, which is a potentially important indicator of long-term success. Black and Hispanic students who use the program have earnings advantages over Whites, but this is not true for those who find jobs on their own.
Conclusions: Job placement can and does occur in two-year colleges in the United States. When programs are institutional rather than based on personal teacher contacts, they can serve students equitably and potentially reduce preexisting social inequalities. Colleges can effectively do job matching between the labor market and their students’ qualifications. In so doing, they can provide useful recommendations to employers and place students in skill-relevant jobs.
Newcomers to the labor market face great difficulties in gaining recognition and finding good jobs. This task is especially challenging for youth, minorities, and those with subbaccalaureate credentials. Almost half of new college students enter two-year colleges, which enroll exactly these types of students seeking preparation for employment. This article focuses on a two-year college that uses institutional employer contacts to help its graduates make the transition into the labor market. We examine the colleges job placement program and procedures, which students are served by the program, and the degree of success that program participants experience in the labor market.
Sociologists have studied how personal contacts are used in job search (Granovetter, 1995). However, disadvantaged individuals rarely have personal contacts that can help them get good jobs, and institutions that rely on job seekers to use personal contacts have the potential to simply reproduce social inequalities. On the other hand, institutional contacts can potentially provide assistance to all members of the institution, leveling the playing field and potentially reducing social inequalities. The United States lacks models of what institutional linkages are, but examples from other countries suggest that true institutional linkages are more than simply personal contacts delivered in an institutional setting: Their institutional backing may offer trust and equity that personal friendships cannot (Hamilton, 1990; Rosenbaum, 2001; Rosenbaum & Kariya, 1989). Indeed, Granovetter (1995) considered institutional networks to be a different process than personal networks, and they lead to differences in the detailed process (p. 160). However, as Granovetter noted, these institutional linkages are rare in American society, and individuals cannot access institutional linkages if they dont existand mostly they do not. Even where they exist, they may not be very effective, as Osterman (1988) noted about the U.S. employment service. This article presents a study of a school that creates institutional linkages, and we examine whether disadvantaged individuals can benefit from them.
The lack of institutional linkages in high schools and colleges may be related to the assumption of many labor market analysts that graduates get jobs because credentials signal their skills to employers (Spence, 1974; Stigler, 1961). Schools may assume that their graduates credentials are enough and that job placement services are unnecessary (Brint, 2003; Grubb, 1996; Rosenbaum, 2001). However, for educational credentials other than the bachelors degree, legitimacy is rarely as automatic as institutional theory presumes. Research has shown that employers often mistrust the value of a high school diploma (Miller & Rosenbaum, 1997; Murnane & Levy, 1996; Neckerman & Kirschenman, 1991), and others have questioned the value of other lower status credentials. Brown (2001) questioned the authority among employers of high school diplomas, technical certificates, subbaccalaureate degrees, and lower prestige college degrees. Others (Bills, 1992) have suggested that employers use alternate criteria (other than credentials) to evaluate job applicants for lower level bureaucratic jobs.
Terminal graduates of high schools and two-year colleges often have lower achievement than four-year college students, and high school diplomas and associates degrees are less recognized than bachelors degrees and do not convey the same trusted signals (Grubb, 1996). Furthermore, many of these graduates come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have few personal resources; they rely largely on the school to help them find good jobs. The combination of these disadvantaging factorslarge numbers of low-achieving students with low-status degrees who lack personal job contactssuggests serious doubts about the power of credentials in the labor market and suggests the need for alternative procedures for helping graduates get jobs.
Although schoolemployer contacts have been studied in Japan and Germany, few studies have examined such contacts in the United States (Rosenbaum, 2001). Holzers (1996) study of employers found that only 4.6% of jobs are filled by school placements, and Bishops (1992) study of employers reported that 7.9% are filled this way (for small and medium-sized employers). However, it isnt clear whether such contacts benefit disadvantaged students. A few studies have described teacher-directed placement in high schools (Rosenbaum; Royster, 2003), but such programs are not systematic and have had mixed results for disadvantaged students (that is, low-achieving and minority students). Furthermore, in our college-for-all society, in which 80% of high school graduates attend college in the 8 years after graduation (Adelman, 2003; Rosenbaum), attention must turn to the employment networks at colleges rather than high schools, especially in the expanding two-year sector.
This article begins to address this issue, examining whether schoolemployer contacts at a private two-year college are able to mitigate students disadvantages and are able to serve a large proportion of students regardless of academic background or other personal characteristics.
This study is also distinctive in analyzing skill relevance as an employment outcome. The term skill relevance refers to the extent to which a job is aligned with an individuals skills and training. Prior research has shown that vocational programs improve employment outcomes if graduates manage to get skill-relevant jobs (Kang & Bishop, 1986), and skill relevance leads to greater job satisfaction and other outcomes (Holland, 1985; Kolb, 1990; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). However, few studies have examined the determinants of whether graduates get skill-relevant jobs (see Kolb, 1990, for analyses from 1970s). This variable is perhaps the most direct indicator of employers responsiveness to two-year college students qualifications, indicating whether employers recognize graduates skills as relevant to their job requirements. Ultimately, measuring this outcome could help elucidate the benefits of attending two-year colleges and the extent to which employers respond to graduates qualifications.
Although the customary outcome variable is earnings, which represents one aspect of employers responsiveness, it is problematic in some ways (as elaborated later). Particularly for recent graduates, some research shows that obtaining skill-relevant jobs may be at least as important as high earnings (Grubb, 1992, 1997; Kolb, 1989; Tsapogas, Cahalan, & Stowe, 1994). As we will show in this article, those who work to place individuals in jobs also report some long-term benefits for employees in skill-relevant jobs.
In studying the placement strategies and job outcomes at a two-year college, this article contributes to the scant literature on how job placement can operate in two-year colleges. This is one of the only studies of institutional job placement in the United States, describing how it works and who benefits from it, and it offers a new perspective on skill relevance as an employment outcome variable. We examine three questions: (1) How does schoolwide institutional job placement operate in a private two-year college with a highly developed program? (2) How many and which kinds of students are served? (3) Is this job placement program successful and equitable?
Using qualitative data, this study shows why and how this school rejects the assumptions that students can find suitable jobs on their own and that schools play no role in the employment process. In quantitative analyses of administrative data on the associates degree graduating class of 1997 (N = 591), we found that the placement process was successful with regard to skill relevance, leading to better matches for students who used the placement program. However, findings for earnings outcomes were less supportive and raised new questions for research.
PERSPECTIVES AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
Although it is often assumed that recent graduates with higher achievement will get better jobs and pay, research often does not support this prediction (Gamoran, 1994; Griffin, Alexander, & Kalleberg, 1981; Miller, 1998; Murnane, Willett, & Levy, 1995), and employers often mistrust the value of educational credentials (Miller & Rosenbaum, 1997; Murnane & Levy, 1996; Neckerman & Kirschenman, 1991). In response to these findings, a new emphasis has been placed on social capital and the value of personal contacts in finding a job. Research suggests that social capital might allow individuals to overcome their initial job-search disadvantages of low achievement (Boxman, De Graaf, & Flap, 1991; Lin, Vaughn, & Ensel, 1981; Marsden & Hurlbert, 1988). Framed by Granovetters (1973) findings of the strength of weak personal ties in job search, much of this research has focused on the use of personal contacts (Eriksen & Yancey, 1977; Lin, 1999; Mouw, 2004; Wegener, 1991; Spaulding, 2005).
Although this literature contributes to our understanding of social networks in job search, it applies primarily to individuals with high-quality social networks. Granovetters (1973) finding occurred in a sample of experienced, well-educated suburban workers. Likewise, Boxman et al. (1991) found social capital benefits for managers with high numbers of work contacts and subordinates, as well as for those with membership in professional associations. Meanwhile, subsequent research in this area has shown that personal contacts may be less helpful to those at the bottom (Eriksen & Yancey, 1977; Granovetter, 1995; Lin, Ensel, & Vaughn, 1981; Royster, 2003; Wegener 1991).
The failure of personal networks for low-income and less educated job seekers can be explained in several ways. First, many of these job seekers do not have enough social contacts to yield adequate job leads and information (Boxman et al., 1991; Spaulding, 2005). Second, many only have social ties within their own low-income or minority groups, limiting their access to job leads (Holzer, 1988; Korenman & Turner, 1994; Mostacci-Calzavara, 1982; Spaulding, 2005). Third, many low-income job seekers need trusted and strong recommendations to overcome employers biases (Kasinitz & Rosenberg, 1996).
Considering these barriers, low-income and inexperienced job seekers may require the help of social networks other than their own. Schools provide a potential source of useful job contacts, particularly for recent graduates. School contacts can offer similar outcomes, but they might operate more equitably, leveling the playing field for all students and providing equal access to network resources (Royster, 2003). Additionally, institutional contacts might be more trusted among employers than personal contacts because they can provide more specific and relevant information about job candidates. Because institutions rely on long-term relationships with employers rather than one-time transactions, their recommendations might also be more trusted, which is crucial for overcoming employers reluctance to hire some job seekers about whom they have biased preconceptions.
Institutional contacts have rarely been studied in the United States (cf. Rosenbaum, 2001). In a 44-page afterword in the second edition of his book, Getting a Job (1995), Mark Granovetter devoted eight pages to discussing institutional networks as a new extension of his work. Institutional networks work qualitatively differently than personal networks because they are based on established, trusted institutional relationships rather than personal friends and favors. Their services are ostensibly available to all members or clients of the institution rather than being handed out randomly and unevenly by individuals. Granovetter reviewed several studies of institutional networks; most are studies of networks in other countries, as well as a few highly specialized studies of specialized professionals. A few other studies have examined examples of institutional and semi-institutional models that are relevant to disadvantaged individuals in the United States.
One such study focuses on the U.S. Employment Service (ES), a national job-matching system. Osterman (1988) found that ES does not provide job benefits because it is too impersonal. Striving to avoid favoritism and minimize the costs of assessment, ES referrals convey little information about applicants value, and its ratings lack credibility because employers do not have trusted relationships with ES (Osterman). Although employment services provide listings of job openings and applicants, they rarely convey much information to either employers or applicants, they have weak relationships with employers (Holzer, 1996), and their influence has declined in the past 20 years (Bishop, 1993).
While this example demonstrates shortcomings of complete institutionalization of job match mechanisms, researchers have also studied several hybrid models in schools. Such hybrids offer institutional assistance to students based on personal relationships between school faculty and employers, which increases the credibility and quality of teachers recommendations of students.
Rosenbaum (2001) examined one such hybrid model in which vocational high school teachers link students with employers. With prior industry experience, many vocational teachers understand job requirements and have trusted relationships with employers. Their unique positions allow them to (a) access more information about job openings than students parents and friends could; (b) provide job leads in relevant fields and connections to influential employers outside of students own contacts; and (c) vouch for students and provide information about hard-to-assess traits (e.g., perseverance, quality of work).
Indeed, this school employment model is promising. Analyses of national survey data found that females and Black students are more likely to get their first job through school help than are White males, and there are large long-term earnings benefits for those who use school assistance compared with getting jobs through personal contacts or employment agencies (Rosenbaum, 2001). However, although teachers do not favor White males or high-socioeconomic status (SES) students, they tend to recommend academically stronger students, so those with lower grades and test scores might not benefit in this model. Such preferences might be inevitable in a system that depends on individual teachers to extend themselves beyond their official job duties to recommend promising students to personal friends.
Royster (2003) described another example of a hybrid model found in a vocational high school in Baltimore, which could potentially reduce personal preferences. This school offers multiple routes to work-study and postgraduation jobs. Students can either obtain job leads through their industry-savvy teachers or through a formal work-study program that maintains employer contacts and notifies students about job openings. Although these multiple job search options could potentially circumvent the preferential placement problem described earlier, stratification and inequality remain and are perhaps intensified in this model. The White students at this school are able to find relevant jobs through their White teachers, whereas the African American students do not have strong relationships with teachers and instead rely on the work-study office, which is not able to provide the same quality of industry links and job leads. Thus, this hybrid model fails to actually integrate personal and institutional relationships; instead, it simply creates two stratified paths to employment.
The failures of these examples of institutional placement help to refine the definition of an effective placement model: To avoid personal biases and differential treatment, institutional links must provide institutional relationships and serve all students. Perhaps because they do not have a mandate to do job placement and because placement is based on teachers own initiatives, high schools do not place many students in jobs. Fewer than 5% of all U.S. high schools place 25% or more of their work-bound students (Rosenbaum, 2001).
The situation in public two-year colleges may be worse than in high schools. Prior research has shown that community colleges have minimal contacts with employers (Brewer & Gray, 1999; Grubb, 1996). A recent detailed study of seven community colleges found that none of the career services offices had contacts with local employers for jobs relevant to their associates degree programs. The offices offer small workshops on interviewing techniques and resume preparation, but these workshops serve fewer than 5% of students (Rosenbaum, Deil-Amen, & Person, 2006). However, some researchers have speculated about the possibility that community college career services offices have the potential to establish institutional contacts that could have potential benefits for disadvantaged students (Brewer & Gray 1999; Grubb 1996; Rosenbaum et al., 2006).
The topic of institutional job placement has not been extensively studied, but the available research casts serious doubts on whether it exists, how it might operate, whether it introduces bias, and whether it can have the benefits about which researchers have speculated (Brewer & Gray, 1999; Grubb, 1996). The literature on guidance counselors raises some of the same concerns, and it suggests differential treatment by race and SES (Heyns, 1974; Orfield & Paul, 1994).
In addition, there are serious reasons to doubt that employers pay any attention to college placement staff recommendations. These are low-status schools that enroll many low-income, low-achieving students. Employers show extensive bias against these kinds of students and the schools that enroll large proportions of them (Neckerman & Kirschenman, 1991). Whereas employers are highly responsive to school recommendations in Japan and Germany, they have been shown to be largely indifferent to schools in the United States (Shapiro & Goertz, 1998; Rosenbaum, 2001).
Indeed, this topic is off the radar screen of most researchers, and questions about school placement are not even included on most national surveys that ask students how they got their first job after school (such questions do not appear in NLSY, NLS72, NELS, and so on; cf. Rosenbaum, 2001). This is a neglected topic; many researchers assume that school job placement does not even happen. Researchers who have studied job placement (such as the examples of high school programs mentioned earlier) have largely focused on personal job contacts and not on truly institutional programs. We are not aware of any study of high schools or two-year colleges that describes institutional job placement and analyzes its operation and student outcomes. This article seeks to examine how institutional job placement operates at a two-year college with a highly developed program, as well as how it impacts studentsparticularly those who might struggle to find jobs independently.
INDICATORS OF JOB PLACEMENT SUCCESS
There are several indicators available to evaluate the success of this job placement program in serving its students effectively and equitably. Earnings is a clear and accessible employment indicator used by many researchers (Murnane et al., 1995). However, earnings, especially in initial jobs, may not be meaningful. Although high school grades and test scores have strong and significant effects on earnings many years after graduation, they have no effects on earnings immediately after college (Gamoran, 1994; Griffin et al., 1981; Miller, 1998; Murnane et al., 1995; Rosenbaum, 2001). Indeed, some research has found that different levels of educational attainment are not reflected in earnings until individuals are in their early 30s (Grubb, 1992). Moreover, early earnings after college are not always predictive of later success (Grubb, 1992).
Some studies have suggested that skill relevance is another possible indicator of early attainment and is worthy of consideration. Skill-relevant jobs are perhaps the most direct indication of whether employers recognize and value graduates training at two-year colleges. If employers view students skills as adequate and useful, they are likely to hire them into positions that use these skills; likewise, if employers do not believe that students have adequate credentials, they are likely not to hire them into relevant jobs or to put them into jobs that do not rely on such qualifications. Furthermore, skill relevance might be a precursor of later career advancement, given that it could be easier for employees to advance in a field in which they hold relevant degrees and have extensive training. Research also suggests that skill relevance enhances earnings, particularly for occupational degree holders. Grubb (1997) found that at both the bachelors and associates degree levels, graduates with skill-relevant jobs earn more than their peers. Specifically, of workers who hold occupational associates degrees, Grubb (1997) found that men in relevant jobs have a 15% earnings advantage over those who are not in relevant jobs, and women in relevant jobs have a 50% earnings advantage. These findings are supported by other analyses of national samples (Kolb, 1989; Tsapogas et al., 1994). Grubb (1997) concluded that one of the reasons that job relevance is a significant predictor of salary for these occupational two-year degree holders is that occupational education is highly job specific, and occupational degrees offer few general benefits outside their narrow field.
In addition, psychologists have found that job congruencea concept similar to skill relevanceleads to higher job satisfaction (Fricko & Beehr, 1992; Granrose & Portwood, 1987) and job stability (Spokane, 1985). Although these outcomes are valuable on their own, they might also contribute to the higher long-term earnings noted earlier.
METHODS AND DATA SOURCES
As part of a larger study of 14 two-year colleges, we obtained detailed administrative records from one of the private two-year colleges in the broader sample that claimed to offer job placement to all graduates.
The college, Eastside (a pseudonym), is located in a major Midwestern city and serves many minorities and low-income students. It offers occupational programs in fields such as business, health, computer graphics, and information technology, and it awards certificates and applied associates degrees in accredited programs. Although it is primarily a two-year college, it has recently begun offering a limited number of applied bachelors degrees in occupational fields.
First, we analyzed transcribed interviews with 10 administrators, faculty, and staff. These individuals held positions in the job placement, student services, academic affairs, and advising departments. Interviews were semistructured and open ended, allowing for in-depth probing on a variety of issues. They were 12 hours in length, tape-recorded, and transcribed verbatim. We coded interview data both inductively and deductively, examining responses to specific questions of interest and then coding related themes across cases. These interviews allowed us to describe the job placement process for students and to understand the ways in which this college tries to strike a balance between institutional equity and personal job contacts. Interviews include questions about students employment needs, strategies to prepare students for the job market, and job placement practices.
Second, we analyzed administrative records from the colleges job placement office on all associates degree graduates in 1997 (N = 591). These records include student demographic data, high school and college achievement, use of job placement services, and postgraduation employment data. We analyzed which students requested and received placement assistance, considering gender, race, age, achievement, and major.
Third, we used these findings to analyze the extent to which this job placement program was successful and equitable. This analysis examines the job outcomes of all 1997 graduates, comparing the jobs of those who were school placed and those who were not. Outcome data, collected by the college, refer to the students first job after graduation from Eastside. They include annual salary after graduation and a rating of the jobs relevance to the students major (coded as not or somewhat relevant and relevant). The skill relevance rating was determined by the job placement office based on knowledge of the colleges program and the job market.1
We chose to focus on skill relevance as an alternate job outcome for several reasons. The literature noted earlier shows that earnings often vary little among recent graduates and can be a poor indicator of job success immediately after graduation. In our own sample, we found little variation in initial salaries as well: The interquartile range of annual salariesthe range between the 25th and 75th percentileswas less than $7,000. With such a narrow range, much of the earnings variation was among small distinctions, and it may not be meaningful to explain this variation.
Moreover, Eastside staff reported that their own observations led them to deemphasize salary because of the negative qualities of some high-paying jobs available to their graduates. According to the director of placement, in the subbaccalaureate labor market, many high-paying jobs offered to their graduates are misleading, often promising unrealistic wages that become commission dependent after the first few months. Many others are strenuous, dangerous, or do not lead to long-term career paths. As a result, the placement office actively avoids high-paying jobs. Although this evidence may not justify abandoning studies of early earnings, it does suggest reasons for caution in interpreting the earnings for the subbaccalaureate labor market.
As academic researchers accustomed to analyzing earnings outcomes and assuming that jobs with high salaries are better, we were startled to hear that our assumptions were not shared by the professional staff at this college. Because of worries about placing graduates in jobs that offer high earnings at the price of job instability or dangerous work conditions, the placement staff instead attempt to place students in jobs in which they will use their newly acquired skill sets. The director reported that recruiters seek students with relevant skills, and they tell the placement office that such students will have opportunities for advancement. Indeed, the placement director often uses alumni who have advanced within their fields as contacts for placing new graduates. Furthermore, recent graduates reported to the placement staff that their skill-relevant jobs gave them satisfaction because they could make useful contributions in positions they were trained for. This policy of emphasizing skill-relevant jobs coincides with the literature noted earlier on the long-term monetary and psychological benefits associated with skill relevance.
Hence, based on prior findings and the views and practices of the college faculty in our study, there is reason to believe that using skill relevance could offer a more complete picture of long-term success, particularly for graduates of two-year occupational colleges. We cannot test the placement directors assertion that skill relevance is a better indicator of graduates success, but research suggests that it is indeed an important measure to consider. In any case, skill relevance is the stated goal of Eastsides job placement efforts and must be considered here to measure their success.
HOW DOES SCHOOLWIDE INSTITUTIONAL JOB PLACEMENT OPERATE HERE?
The primary problem with previous employment network modelsthe personal network model (Granovetter), the meritocratic high school model (Rosenbaum), and the racially stratified high school model (Royster)is that in each one, a portion of the student population fails to gain the employment benefits of contacts. The private two-year college studied here claims to avoid this problem. Our study found that Eastside has implemented several strategies to overcome this persistent problem, offering services to all students and strongly encouraging participation. We interviewed administrators and staff in the job placement, student services, academic affairs, and advising departments, and we outline in the following section a job placement program that, in the words of several college faculty, is in students faces from enrollment until graduation. A later section tests this claim with quantitative analyses.
EARLY STAGES OF JOB SEARCH PREPARATION
During initial enrollment, the first stage of job placement begins. On students first contact with the college, they are expected to declare a major. Those who are unsure are counseled on the spot, meeting with placement staff to discuss possible fields of study and to decide on an occupational program and career path. At these meetings, students already begin to plan for their futures, learning about career options, potential earnings, likely job conditions, and employment outlooks. Students who do not encounter placement staff during enrollment first meet them at orientation, during which the staff introduce students to the services available and register them with the placement office.
Shortly after orientation, all students are assigned to a placement coordinator who assists them throughout their college career. This coordinator regularly initiates meetings with students to discuss progress and plans, part-time jobs, and internships, and later to develop resumes and interviewing skills. Coordinators whom we interviewed referred to this as a mentoring relationship. Most placement coordinators have worked in the field for which they advise (e.g., computer, health, business) and can offer students concrete and detailed advice about their employment future.
Throughout college, placement staff repeatedly reach out to students. Even if some students choose not to visit the office regularly, they are frequently reminded of the services available. Staff visit classes several times each year, making presentations to students about the options and services available and recruiting them to participate. Coordinators reported that they sometimes use class rosters and systematically call students to encourage participation in job placement activities.
In addition to the efforts of the placement staff, students are guided toward job preparation and placement through their courses and other college experiences. The director of job placement explained, We have to get them into the mode of professional business. How to act, how to talk, how to think, how to be. All courses are designed to teach students communication skills and regularly assign class presentations and group projects. Students develop these skills through frequent class presentations and a schoolwide casual professional dress code. The vice president of student services explained that these presentation skills are taught from the beginning because they must be learned and developed over time; she stressed that students cannot wait until the actual job search to begin acquiring these types of skills.
A required professional development course also helps students acquire job search skills. This course teaches students how to write resumes and cover letters, how to answer interview questions, and how to dress for interviews, as well as more minute details such as how to identify the correct salad fork at a professional lunch and how to leave appropriate voicemail messages. Additionally, attendance at the frequent job fairs is strongly encouraged.
During their final semester, students are again forced to confront job placement in order to graduate. The placement staff have a table that students must visit when picking up their cap and gown for graduation. In addition, all students are required to fill out forms indicating their placement status, and these forms are given to placement staff after graduation. The placement staff use this information to contact each graduate individually as a final form of recruitment.
As a result of the ongoing nature of this job placement process, every student at this college must have multiple contacts with the job placement staff throughout the course of his or her college career. Unlike at other colleges, where many students might spend their entire college career exploring multiple options and where career services encourages and primarily focuses on such exploration, Eastside compels students to declare a specific occupational goal at the very outset and to execute a careful plan for attaining their goal through ongoing job search preparation throughout their college career.
JOB SEARCH AND PLACEMENT ACTIVITIES
When students are ready to begin the job search, placement coordinators take an increasingly active role. In this phase, all students are required to work with placement coordinators to revise and refine their resumes and to practice mock interviews (students can be exempted from this requirement only by special petitionfor instance, if they already have relevant jobs). Placement coordinators then send students resumes to employers, many of whom have worked with the college for years and have requested resumes for a particular job opening. The college continues its close involvement in the job search process even after sending out the resume. For example, the job placement staff omit students contact information from the resume so that employers contact the placement office first, which then arranges interviews for students. This gives the college leverage in making sure students respond appropriately, and it also strengthens the colleges relationship with employers. Critics might consider such an approach patronizing, but staff justify it on the grounds that students do not always understand how to respond, and the college has a vested interest in maintaining strong links to employers. Placement coordinators continue to work with students on a regular basis until students find employment.
Job placement staff conduct follow-ups with both employers and students. After each students interview, the placement coordinators contact the company to inquire about their impression of the student and about what can be improved in the future. Additionally, students promise that if they are placed, they will keep in regular contact with the office and stay in the job for at least 1 year. At given intervals throughout the year following the students employment, coordinators continue to monitor the placement, surveying both employers and students. These follow-ups allow them to serve their placed graduates and to maintain strong relationships with employers and gather inside information that can be used in placing future students.
GUARANTEED PLACEMENT FOR ALL
Eastside claims in its catalog that job placement is a compulsory part of every students college career and that every student will receive placement assistance unless given exemption. Interviews with college personnel support these assertions. The administrators, faculty, and staff at Eastside believe that job search is a complex and difficult task. Recognizing that it is difficult for many students to do on their own, staff view their role as providing employment preparation and placement assistance. The vice president of academic affairs explained this philosophy:
We dont leave that much up to the students. Were kinda like in their face, all the time, you know? But we feel, for the most part, that most of our students, . . . not all of them . . . theres a certain segment of our students that dont need us in their face, they do the right thing, they fill out the right forms, they dont need somebody hand-holding them. But we have a large percentage of students that do [need it]. And we do it.
This practice of hand-holding stretches across the institution, but it is especially clear in the job placement procedures. One placement coordinator described the placement services as being in their face basically, from beginning to end.
The collegewide mission to help all students find jobs is further evident in staff incentives and institutional promises. First, all placement coordinators are required to meet a quota of placements each month. In addition, the college offers a placement guarantee to students: If they are not placed in a job within 180 days of graduation, the college will offer them free tuition to pursue another associates degree.
Interviews with placement staff confirm their dedication to helping all students find jobs, even those who may lack relevant experience or good grades. One placement coordinator discussed stepping up the efforts for these types of students:
We get recent grads that have no experience whatsoever in their field, . . . and its harder to place them. And thats where you really have to generate leads and go to network functions to try to assist them the best possibly that you can. And Ive had those students, . . . and thats where we network. And then, because placement has been in existence for several years, more than 10, 12 years, we have built relationships with various companies.
Placement coordinators attributed their ability to place some of these less desirable candidates to long-lasting trusted relationships with employers. After years of receiving many high-quality candidates from the college, employers may be more willing to take a chance on a questionable candidate from Eastside than one from elsewhere who does not come with a trusted recommendation. One coordinator said, They trust . . . the student product that is coming out. Another explained, Once they go through the process with us once, they come back because they know . . . thats how its gonna be. This trust is built through many years of contact, including advisory board meetings, personalized relationships, detailed knowledge of employers needs, and follow-ups to see how graduates perform on the job (Rosenbaum et al., 2006).
For those who need even more assistance than trusted contacts can offer, the placement staff use other strategies. One placement coordinator told a story of a recent graduate who had trouble finding a job in the open market. After trying unsuccessfully to place this student in a full-time job, the coordinator resorted to another tactic. She called a contact at a small business and convinced the owner to hire the student as an unpaid intern for several weeks, with the expectation that if he performed well, he would eventually be hired as a full-time employee. The internship worked out as planned, and the student moved into a full-time position at the end of it. Placement staff reported other similar examples of persistence and dedication to place every student, regardless of academic background or job skills.
In contrast with the personal friendships of vocational high school teachers, these employer relationships are institutional, often formed by Eastside before specific placement staff came to the college. Although placement staff do not want to jeopardize their employer linkages, their strictly institutional relationships might offer enough distance that they can refer some candidates who are more questionable if they satisfy minimum standards. In addition, because they recommend a steady supply of students to employers, placement staff reported that they made up for referring a borderline candidate one year by referring high-quality candidates in a later year. Analogous arrangements occur in other linkage systems. In a study of labor market linkages in Japan, school placement personnel reported that if a referred student did not work out one year, the next year they would make sure to offer a better graduate in order to preserve the relationship with that employer (Rosenbaum & Kariya, 1989).
HOW MANY AND WHICH KINDS OF STUDENTS ARE SERVED?
Although staff interviews support the rhetoric of in your face services and guaranteed help for all students, we used quantitative analyses of student participation to test these assertions. Here, we use the colleges administrative data to examine how many students requested and received job placement services, as well as the characteristics of these students in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, and achievement.
WHO REQUESTS JOB PLACEMENT SERVICES?
Other job placement programs often require students to have initiative, confidence, and know-how to seek school assistance on their own, which can create unequal access to services (Rosenbaum et al., 2006; Royster, 2003; Spaulding, 2005). Overcoming this rudimentary barrier of student initiation is the first step to ensuring that all students have equal access to placement services. To test this programs success at overcoming this initial hurdle, we analyzed how many and which kinds of students requested placement from the college.
We found that of those earning applied associate of science degrees (AAS) from Eastside in 1997 (N = 591), 86.1% requested placement services from Eastside at some point during their college career. Of the remaining 13.9% who did not request placement, more than 1 out of 4 (26.8% of this group) attended another school after graduation rather than enter the job market. We could not identify any systematic differences between the remaining 60 students (who did not request placement and presumably entered the job market) and those who did request placement. These 60 students were not statistically different from the students who requested placement in terms of sex, ethnicity, age, and college grades (Table 1).
These analyses indicate that the assertions of Eastsides placement staff and administrators are correct: Placement is indeed in students faces, and the vast majority of students request placement services.
WHO RECEIVES JOB PLACEMENTS?
This finding of widespread requests for placement supports the schools contentions that most students are aware of job placement services, are confident that the placement office can help them, and approach the office for help. This is a first step toward equitable outcomes, but it is also important that students receive the job search help that they seek. To examine this question, we analyze how many and which kinds of students receive full-time job offers through the placement program and choose to accept them. We focus on equity across ethnic and achievement groups, given that stratification in these groups was found in other school placement models (Rosenbaum, 2001; Royster, 2003).
We found that of those who requested placement and for whom placement status was not missing (N = 509), 61.3% accepted full-time jobs through Eastsides program. (Table 2 presents means and percentages of the variables used in the regressions described in Tables 36; a logistic regression model, Table 3, reveals the student characteristics associated with placement.) Similar to a recent model used by Thomas Bailey (Bailey, Jenkins, & Leinbach, 2005), the model used in this and in later regressions includes gender, ethnicity, and major.2 These administrative records do not have measures for SES, but students at this college are likely to be primarily from low socioeconomic backgrounds, given that this college competes for enrollment with other urban two-year colleges (for which we know that SES is low and has low variability; cf. Rosenbaum et al., 2006). Although we didnt have measures for ability, we controlled for prior high school grades (which is a strong predictor of degree completion that Bailey did not consider; Rosenbaum, 2001) and college grades. Unlike NELS (the data set used by Bailey), which only has a single age cohort, this college enrolls students of widely differing ages, and our controls for age may capture important variation better than a simple dichotomous delayed enrollment variable. We lacked indicators of enrollment interruptions and intensity, but it is important to note that this college stresses full-time programs and has numerous procedures for reducing interruptions (which are apparently effective; see Rosenbaum et al., 2006). Because the program is highly structured and is designed for full-time enrollment, it is unlikely that there are many part-time students in the sample. Thus, these measures are likely to be less important in this college than in the national sample of community colleges that Bailey studied.
a Different cutoffs were used for high school grade groups and college grade groups because of differences in the distributions of the two variables.
b Excluded categories in earnings and skill-relevance regression models (Tables 36).
Of these attributes, female and Hispanic are the only significant background variables, and both are positively associated with placement. We found that females and Hispanics are substantially more likely to be school placed than males and non-Hispanic Whites, respectively. Females are 1.7 times as likely to be school placed, and Hispanics are 2.6 times as likely to be school placed (see odds ratios in Table 3). After controls for major, we found that the health major has a positive influence and the art major has a negative influence; female is no longer significant (females advantage is due to their enrollment in health programs).
This finding supports the colleges claims of equitable services and demonstrates an improvement in equity over the high school models studied by Rosenbaum (2001) and Royster (2003) described earlier. The benefits for minority students are consistent with some analyses of high school placement (Rosenbaum; Rosenbaum, DeLuca, Roy, & Miller, 1999), but there is a stark contrast between these findings and Roysters (2003) finding of preferential services for White students. However, this inconsistency should not be surprising given that Royster also studied a single school, and given that Eastside actively makes an explicit effort to avoid preferential treatment. Furthermore, the nonsignificance of high school and college grades demonstrates another example of equity at Eastside. This finding differs from the national longitudinal sample of high school students studied by Rosenbaum (2001), among which high-achieving students got preference.
These analyses indicate that Eastside places the majority of students in full-time jobs and serves many types of students, including traditionally disadvantaged groups. Contrary to prior findings showing bias against minorities and low-achieving students, the results indicate no racial and academic differentiation.3 This finding also coincides with the placement coordinators reports of their perseverance with each student, regardless of academic background or other characteristics.
IS THIS JOB PLACEMENT PROGRAM SUCCESSFUL AND EQUITABLE?
Although equitably attracting students to the placement program and placing them in full-time jobs is key to the success of the program, the quality of the placement jobs is also important. This final section analyzes the job outcomes of students who receive school placements at Eastside, using two outcome measures: skill relevance and the more traditional indicator of earnings. Here, we examine both indicators for school-placed and self-placed students, controlling for gender, ethnicity, age, high school grades, college grades, and college majora similar model to the one used in Table 3 and compared with Bailey et al.s (2005) model mentioned previously. We used similar models for both dependent variables, in part for comparability, and also because the individual attributes that affect earnings might also affect skill relevance (for example, older students often have greater work experiencefor which we lack direct measuresthat may lead to access to more skill-relevant jobs).
Although prior research has indicated that skill relevance has payoffs for earnings and job satisfaction (Kang & Bishop, 1986; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005), little is known about the conditions that enable students to attain skill-relevant employment. Skill relevance is an indication of whether employers recognize and respond to graduates skills, so we might wonder which kinds of students get such recognition. Multivariate regression can address this question. Here, we treat skill relevance as a dependent variable, examining the demographic and academic traits of students who obtain relevant jobs and, ultimately, analyzing the extent to which participation in the schools job placement program affects skill relevance.
In this section, we analyze administrative records from the schools placement office. The records include each students first job title and employer after college; these initial jobs were based on knowledge of the colleges academic programs and of students jobs. Each job was rated on a 3-point scale (relevant, somewhat relevant, and not relevant), with the last two levels collapsed for these analyses. Of 474 valid cases, 331 students received relevant jobs, and 143 received not relevant or somewhat relevant jobs.
We present two logistic regressions on job relevance. The first analyzes individual attributes, and the second adds school placement status (Table 4).
In the first model, the only precollege student attribute significantly associated with job relevance was gender; females were approximately 60% less likely than males to have relevant jobs. The placement director suggested this outcome in noting that females often felt they had to turn down skill-relevant jobs because commuting distance conflicted with other demands (for example, childrens or parents needs). Two college-related variables also had a significant effect on job relevance: major and grades.
Health majors were much more likely to have relevant jobs. This is supported by findings in national samples (Grubb, 1997) and is related to licensure requirements, specific training, high demand, and clear pathways for healthcare jobs.
In contrast, art and computer majors wee significantly less likely to have relevant jobs. The negative coefficients for art and computer majors were consistent with the placement directors reports of difficulty convincing companies to hire the colleges associates degree graduates for highly competitive graphics and computer jobs. In these fields, it seems that employers do not respond to students subbaccalaureate degrees and qualifications. Rather, bachelors degrees are the standard in graphics and computer fields. Students with subbaccalaureate credentials are not valued and have difficulty obtaining skill-relevant jobs.
The only other college-related influence was high college grades (i.e., a grade point average greater than 3.5 on a 4.0 scale), which was associated with a higher likelihood that the student would land a skill-relevant job. Because Eastside students are in vocational programs and take primarily practical courses that are highly related to job skills, their grades reflect their ability to perform on the job. Thus, it is logical that employers would consider high grades from such programs in hiring for jobs that closely aligned with skill training. This should not necessarily be seen as preferential treatment by the placement office in helping high-achieving students; rather, this seems to be an unavoidable trend in programs that closely mirror job performance. However, the difference in skill relevance outcomes between students with low grades and those with middle grades is not significant. This shows that although the very top students might have an advantage in attaining skill-relevant jobs, the remainder of the student body is on somewhat equal footing, regardless of achievement.
Adding job placement status to the second model, we found that it had a strong significant impact on skill relevance. Consistent with the placement directors emphasis on skill-relevant jobs, we found that school-placed students were 2.7 times more likely to have relevant jobs than self-placed students. This finding indicates that employers with ties to the college placement office might be more likely to respond to graduates qualifications than those who hire in other ways. Another possibility is that students do not have the personal contacts or know-how to find skill-relevant employment on their own.
Although earnings after college are not always predictive of later success (Grubb, 1992), salary is still an immediate concern for many recent graduates, and it is often studied. To analyze the impact of job placement on students earnings, we ran linear regressions on annual salary. Salary data refer to students reported earnings in their first job after college; these data also come from the placement programs administrative records. Following convention, we took the natural logarithm of earnings (because earnings increments tend to be given in percentages, not flat dollar amounts). Similar to the models applied to job relevance, the first model includes gender, ethnicity, age, high school grades, college grades, and college major; the second also includes placement status (Table 5)4 In the third model, we included skill relevance to gauge the short-term impact that skill relevance has on earnings.
Consistent with findings in national data sets (Arcidiacono, 1999; Callaway, Fuller, & Schoenberger, 1996; Fox, 1993; Fuller & Schoenberger, 1991; Knox, Kolb, & Lindsay, 1993; Thomas, 2000; Tsapogas et al., 1994), we found that earnings increase with age (and experience) until about age 40, before leveling off. We also found that females earn significantly less than males (perhaps because of gender discrimination or the job sacrifices that females sometimes make because of family obligations). Hispanic and Black students earn significantly more than Whites (we will return to this finding later). We also found that those from travel programs earn lower salaries than the excluded major group, administrative majors. This is also reflected in the median salaries for these fields reported in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006).
Neither high school nor college grades are significant predictors of salary in the overall sample. This finding contradicts much of the literature on job outcomes of college graduates (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). However, those studies focus almost entirely on bachelors degree programs, which might work differently than associates degree programs. The present findings resemble those from research on high school graduates: Grades have virtually no effect on earnings right after high school graduation (Miller, 1998).
In the second model, job placement is added to the regression; it has no significant effect on earnings, nor does it alter other coefficients. This resembles prior findings in high school programs that indicate that job placement is unrelated to earnings right after high school. Unfortunately, although the high school findings indicate that job placement strongly impacts later earnings (Rosenbaum, 2001), these data do not permit a test of long-term effects.5
In the third model, skill relevance is added to the regression, and it has significant effect on earnings. Even after controls, graduates who take skill-relevant jobs have about 9% higher earnings.
RACE AND GENDER EFFECTS ON EARNINGS
Although it might seem counterintuitive that Black and Hispanic graduates in our sample have significantly higher earnings than Whites, other studies also found that the minority earnings disadvantage disappears after adequate controls for educational attainment and achievement (Rosenbaum, 2001; Stolzenberg, 1997). Jencks (1992) hypothesized that employers have stronger demand for minorities than for Whites if they are assured of comparable qualifications. Although many employers tend to trust bachelors degrees and mistrust high school diplomas (Rosenbaum), little is known about the signaling potential of associates degrees and their ability to override employers racial biases.
Here, we examine two possibilities: (1) employers trust associates degrees from Eastside as assuring suitable quality, enough to grant Blacks and Hispanics a wage premium, and (2) employers only respond to associates degrees from Eastside when they interact directly with Eastsides job placement program. Repeating the prior analyses separately for students who did and did not get job placement (Table 6), we found that the positive effects of Blacks and Hispanics on earnings were only true for students who found their jobs through job placement. Sixty-one percent of Black students and 78% of Hispanic students got jobs through job placement, and only these graduates received an earnings premium over comparable Whites. Those who found their jobs on their own had earnings that were similar to comparable White students. This finding should be interpreted with caution, given the small numbers of self-placed African Americans and Hispanics.
This finding indicates that school placement provides a trusted certification of graduates value, within which employers pay more for minorities than for Whites. Although the associates degree alone might not be enough to overcome employers racial biases, employers are willing to pay a premium to minorities recommended through trusted relationships with placement programs. Contrary to concerns that school placement might contribute to racial bias, these results suggest that the exact opposite might be possible. Our finding contradicts that of Kolb (1990), who found that Blacks have 69% of the chance of Whites of having a good fit between their training and their jobs. However, her data are more than 30 years old (NLS-72), and there might have been more racial prejudice (which is the explanation that she offers) in the 1970s than for our sample in the late 1990s. This suggestion requires further examination given the limitations of this data set.
We also found that the female disadvantage in earnings was only true among students who got jobs through job placement rather than on their own. This may be a concern. However, among self-placed, but not school placed, the health major has a strong negative effect, and because this group is mostly female, it indicates a large negative impact on female earnings.
The private college in this study has a drastically different school-based placement program than the high school placement described by Rosenbaum (2001) and Royster (2003), and it is able to avoid some of the inequalities that exist in these other programs. Eastside is better able to reach all students, putting placement in students faces. Placement is an institutional priority at the college, ensuring that full-time staff members devote great efforts to placing all students, and students are aware of the efforts and feel confident that the school will help them. When students show up at the placement office, this college also does a better job than the high school programs at serving all students, regardless of academic background.
Furthermore, beyond opening access to job placement services to all students, this college also offers a labor market advantage of skill relevance. After controlling for a range of student attributes, we found that school-placed students are nearly three times as likely to have a job aligned with their major and skills as compared with those who do not receive placement.
Although this program serves a wide range of students and offers them skill-relevant jobs, there is uncertainty about the placement programs effect on earnings. We found that job placement does not improve students earnings immediately after college, but the meaning of this finding is ambiguous. Although some students may value high salaries, literature on early earnings contends that earnings immediately after college often vary little and are not always predictive of long-term success. Indeed, the earnings of graduates did not vary much. Moreover, Eastside staff reported that high earnings may in fact signal problematic entry-level jobs. Both the literature and the program staff agree that skill relevance has the potential to lead to long-term earnings advantages, and the relevance advantage offered by Eastsides placement program should be considered in evaluating the programs long-term effects on students.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTITIONERS AND RESEARCHERS
Although this is a study of a single school, and we must be cautious about inferring causality or long-term career outcomes, it presents an example of schoolwide job placement. Although prior research has shown that community colleges have minimal contacts with employers (Brewer & Gray, 1999; Grubb, 1996; Rosenbaum et al., 2006), this college demonstrates that two-year colleges can establish institutional contacts and use them to place graduates in jobs. Unlike prior studies of teacher contacts in high schools (Rosenbaum, 2001; Royster, 2003), this study also shows that such programs can serve a large proportion of the student body, including minorities and low achievers, who often have more difficulties getting jobs.
Additionally, we have identified two indicators to measure success of college placement programs. The first measure of programmatic success is equity. Unlike other school placement programs based on teachers personal contacts, which do not always serve minorities and low achievers, this program provides equitable services to all students. Equity is found both in the types of students who receive services and in the job outcomes across groups. Contrary to the expectation that school placements are inevitably related to school achievement, this school serves all students, without regard to their grades.
Second, we discussed and applied an alternative way to measure labor market success: skill relevance. Both the literature in the field and the job placement staff whom we interviewed agreed that skill-relevance may be a better indicator of job placement success than short-term earnings. Although we cannot claim definitive proof for this point, it deserves more careful attention from researchers and from educators who create placement programs. We have used this finding to evaluate this job placement program, and we found that the program is successful and equitable on this measure (i.e., students using the placement program are significantly more likely to get skill-relevant jobs than those who do not, and this is true across gender and race groups). On the traditional indicator of short-term earnings, we found very little variation for this schools graduates, and we found that school placement had no effect, except in leading to earnings advantages for school-placed minorities.
These results are important because they indicate that even in the United States, where societal infrastructures do not support schoolemployer contacts, a single school can create institutional relationships with employers, which can serve a large proportion of school graduates and equitably place them in skill-relevant jobs. Whereas other forms of social contacts reinforce preexisting social inequalities, institutional contacts have the potential to reduce these inequalities. It remains for further research to examine the circumstances under which this occurs and whether such placements have a lasting impact on individuals career trajectories.
The authors thank Norton Grubb, Shazia Miller, and Jennifer Stephan for thoughtful comments. Support for this work was provided by the Spencer Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Of course, the opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors.
1. Jobmajor relevance was rated by one placement staff person and one of the authors, without individual names attached. Disagreements were reconciled by discussion.
2. The referent categories for each variable are indicated in Table 2. For college major, administrative majors is the referent category because this is a clearly defined program, it was an early program offered at this college, and it has large enrollment.
3. We may in fact be underestimating the actual number of students who receive placement services and job offers from Eastside. First, of the 38.7% who requested placement and were not full-time placed, 2.4% were placed in part-time jobs or internships, and 35.6% were self-placed. Our interviews indicated that of the 35.6% who were self-placed, some may have been offered placements through Eastside and turned them down for various reasons (e.g., commuting time, hours). Only 4 out of 509 students (0.8%) were classified as actively seeking a job. This indicates that Eastside may leave fewer than 1% of graduates high and dry without employment.
4. The college primarily serves students in their 20s, but the age range at graduation was from 19 to 57 years. The mean was 25.76, and the median was 23.7. Seven percent were older than 40, and 20% were over age 31; another 20% were over age 25. Other student attributes are indicated in Table 1. As is the case in most unselective two-year colleges, there were high percentages of Blacks and Hispanics.
5. However, the third model in Table 5, which includes skill relevance as a predictor of short-term earnings, adds credence to our argument that skill relevance might be a more appropriate outcome to focus on in this case. And because job placement increases the chances that a student will attain a skill-relevant job, and skill relevance improves earnings, there may also be positive effects of job placement on earnings that these data did not allow us to analyze. However, this is speculative and should be explored further with other data sets.
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