Scorecard backs The Citadel's legendary networking
As seen in The Post & Courier, Oct. 6, 2015
Written by Paul Bowers
The strength of The Citadel alumni network is legendary. It has been whispered about in office hallways, glorified in a 6-foot-tall bronze replica of a class ring on campus, and even alluded to in a fictional version of the college on the Netflix series “House of Cards.”
For the first time, the legend has some statistics to back it up. According to new figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, the senior military college’s graduates have the second-highest median earnings in the state 10 years after graduation, trailing only graduates of the Medical University of South Carolina, and college leaders say alumni networking plays an outsize role in those high earnings.
The data come from the College Scorecard, an initiative of the Obama administration meant to make the college decision-making process more transparent for students and parents. Among other revelations, the data shows that for-profit colleges in South Carolina have low graduation rates and tend to saddle students with massive amounts of debt.
‘The Citadel runs on the power of relationships’
When Connie Book took over as the new provost at The Citadel this summer, she was struck by the importance of networking in the lives of students and alumni. In addition to a preponderance of high-earning majors like mechanical engineering and graduate programs like business administration, Book said the alumni network may be equally important.
“One thing I have really admired is how The Citadel runs on the power of relationships,” Book said. “Not only do our alumni give back — we’re one of the top universities in terms of alumni giving — they give back opportunities, and so they work that Citadel network. We use it to provide internships and employment opportunities. We really are invested in relationships.”
In addition to ranking near the top of the state for graduate earnings, The Citadel has the fifth-highest graduation rate, with 69 percent of first-time students graduating within six years. Book credits the school’s military-style discipline with helping students stay on track and graduate on time.
“We offer lots of guidance so they spend their time where it will lead to the most success in their lives,” Book said. “The rest of their lives, they continue to advance because they have that leadership.”
Laurence Hutto, a 1987 Citadel graduate and executive director of the Citadel Alumni Association, said that a Citadel ring is an instant conversation starter. During his 27 years in the U.S. Army, Hutto said he enjoyed the company of Citadel graduates around the world, especially in Citadel alumni clubs, which dot the continental U.S. and offer social and business networking opportunities to graduates.
“The one thing that sets us apart is, because of what we go through in the barracks, that creates a bond, and that creates a bond that goes past graduation,” Hutto said. “We want to take care of each other.”
State of the art
One of the major takeaways from the U.S. Department of Education’s summary of its findings in the College Scorecard is that “students at private, for-profit two-year and four-year institutions have high rates of borrowing and their graduates often have large amounts of debt.”
The for-profit Art Institute of Charleston fits the trend. Median debt for graduates of the school is about $30,000, well above the state median of id="mce_marker"9,000, and students there have the ninth-lowest graduation rate at just 31 percent.
Richard Jerue, the inaugural president of the school when it opened its doors near the eastern end of Market Street in 2007, said city leaders recruited the Art Institute to help fill a culinary training void that was left after Johnson & Wales University closed its Charleston campus in 2006. But during a kitchen staffing shortage in 2014, Charleston chefs told The Post and Courier’s Hanna Raskin that they hired far more employees from the culinary program at Trident Technical College, where tuition is less expensive.
Jerue said that while the graduation rate for his former school is troubling, it might be misleading in some ways. “In terms of graduation rates, it fails to take into account some of the characteristics of the student body,” he said. The data source for graduation rate, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), only tracks first-time, full-time undergraduate students, and Jerue said that when he was at the college, many students were part time or had previously gone to another college.
The Art Institute of Charleston does have its success stories, and Bobby Etheredge is one of them. A Marine Corps veteran who did mechanical work for 12 years, he used funds from the Veterans Administration to attend the school and graduated virtually debt-free in 2013 with a four-year degree in web design and interactive media. He quickly found a job as a web developer for Orangeburg County.
“A majority of students, they didn’t really want to put forth the effort. They wanted people to do the work for them,” Etheredge said. He also said that many of his classmates working toward degrees in graphic design or photography dropped out when they realized their career options in those fields were limited.
Still, he said, the school had its flaws. According to Etheredge, the Art Institute promised its students access to “state-of-the-art technology,” but when he graduated in 2013, some of the computers in the labs still had floppy disk drives. He said the school offered some newer Macintosh computers for photo and video editing, but there were so few that students would often show up to work on a project and find that all of the computers were taken.
And then there was the never-ending battle for parking in the thick of the tourist district.
“Whenever cruise ships docked, some students didn’t even bother showing up,” Etheredge said.
A treasure trove of data
Unlike the annual U.S. News & World Report college rankings, which have gained notoriety among some academics for their constantly changing and opaque methodology, the College Scorecard basically consists of a massive cache of data and does not provide blanket overall ratings for schools. While it is based on several troves of federal education and earnings data, it does have some weaknesses. For example, most of the statistics only track students who used federal loans or grants to help pay for college, so students who did not qualify for federal aid are not included.
Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economics professor and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, has been critical of college rankings like the ones from U.S. News in the past, and he said that while the College Scorecard is imperfect, it does provide prospective students with some sobering data that was not previously available.
“I think it was useful to reveal the enormous variations between schools,” Vedder said. “There are schools where you have high graduation rates, students are paying their debts off and earning good money after college, and the ratio of earnings after college to debt is high. And then there are other schools you wonder how they stay in business.”
To research other college statistics, visit collegescorecard.ed.gov.