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Curry College President Jay Gonzalez wears academic robes and gestures with his arms at a podium with “Curry College” projected in purple letters behind him.

Curry College President Jay Gonzalez announced the institution’s new job guarantee program at his inauguration this month. 

Curry College

Jay Gonzalez is promising students they’ll have a job within six months of graduation as one of his first major acts as a president of Curry College, a small private institution in Massachusetts.

The “Curry Commitment” program will start next fall with the current freshman class. Under the new initiative, students who don’t get a job offer or who are not accepted to a graduate or professional school within the six-month period, will have the option of the college paying their student loans for up to a year, placing them in a yearlong paid internship at an organization connected to their field of study while they work with a career counselor, or covering the cost of six graduate course credits at Curry if admitted to a program.

Students must opt into the program to qualify and participate in related activities, such as career advising, career preparation workshops and assignments such as submitting draft résumés and cover letters. They also must maintain an annual GPA of at least 2.8, declare a major by their junior year and graduate within four years.

“The number one thing that students and families want today out of their investment in college is a good job,” said Gonzalez, who began his role last July and announced the program at his formal inauguration in April. “What’s really unique about our approach is … we’re going to hold ourselves accountable for doing that. It’s changing the nature of the relationship with our students to say that if you choose us, and you decide to invest in us … we’re going to be there for you.”

The guarantee is a bold play, but Gonzalez said big moves are what colleges need at a time when traditional college-aged populations are dwindling in parts of the country, including Massachusetts, and would-be students and their families are increasingly questioning the value of four-year degrees. Curry College’s enrollment dropped from about 2,500 students five years ago to about 2,000 today, though enrollment this year is higher than last and appears to be on the rise for next year.

Gonzalez believes the guarantee will set Curry apart from other colleges and help boost enrollment and retention.

“Our long-term sustainability plan can’t be ‘we’re going to just hope for the best,’” he said. “We’ve got to do some things differently. We’ve got to further differentiate ourselves, increase our value proposition we’re offering students—and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Will Guarantees Grow?

At least a handful of other job guarantee programs have sprung up over the years, some more long-lasting than others.

For example, Davenport University, a private institution in Michigan, has a decade-old job guarantee program that promises students in various professional programs, including accounting, cyber defense, legal studies and health services administration, a job within six months of graduation. The university offers students who don’t find work within that timeframe 48 free graduate studies credits, which is equivalent to about $42,000 in tuition. Eligible students must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA, agree to relocate for a job if necessary, participate in career-planning activities and complete an internship, among other requirements.

The program was only for accounting students when it launched in 2014 and has since expanded to about half of Davenport’s programs.

Richard J. Pappas, president of Davenport, expected maybe 50 accounting students to sign up for the guarantee program that first year, but about 500 opted into the program.

“I thought this is a good way to become the ex-president of Davenport,” he said jokingly.

Pappas said some university staff initially worried the program would be a heavy lift, or potentially expensive, but no student has yet requested the free post-graduation credits. He also noted that 96 percent of Davenport graduates are employed within six months. (Davenport uses Handshake, a career services platform, to track students’ employment information over that period. Graduates are also granted lifetime access to the university’s career coaching services.)

“We don’t want it to be a gimmick,” he said. As a university largely focused on professional fields, the program is intended to show “we’re accountable for what we say we do.”

Derrick Anderson, senior vice president of Education Futures, a division of the American Council on Education, said job guarantee programs serve as not only a pledge to students and their families but also a promise to employers that a university will produce graduates who have the skills they need.

“It signals that the university has a close relationship with employers in its neighborhood, in its region, and signaling to its community that we are here and we care,” he said. “And as a consequence, we’re going to do the legwork to make sure that individuals who come here and complete their degrees are going to be able to have a job here in our community.”

Anderson doesn’t think it’s hard to fulfill these promises to students because the vast majority of college graduates are employed. (The unemployment rate for Americans who earned a bachelor’s degree is 2.2 percent compared to 3.9 percent of those who only graduated high school and 3.3 percent of those with some college credits who never graduated, according to 2023 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

“College is absolutely a good investment,” he said.

Not all of these guarantee programs have survived, however.

In 2016, Udacity, a for-profit online course provider, promised students enrolled in certain “nanodegree” programs full tuition refunds if they didn’t have jobs six months after completing a program. Some coding boot camps, including Bloc, the Flatiron School and App Academy, made similar offers, despite some states, such as New York and California, putting limits on these kinds of promises from higher ed institutions to prevent false advertising. Udacity’s money-back guarantee program, called Nanodegree Plus, was quietly discontinued in June 2018 with little explanation. (Udacity declined to comment.)

DePauw University, a private liberal arts institution in Indiana, discontinued its “Gold Commitment” program in the 2021–22 academic year after its launch in 2018. It promised graduates still job searching after six months an internship for at least half a year with DePauw employer partners or an additional tuition-free semester. To qualify, students had to write résumé drafts for review, participate in internships and write reflective essays about how their liberal arts education and co-curricular activities such as internships and research informed one another. The exercise was partly preparation for future graduate school and job applications.

Similar to Davenport, no student took advantage of the program’s benefits because of the university’s high student employment rate, noted Dave Berque, vice president for academic affairs and a computer science professor at DePauw University. He said university officials scrapped the guarantee because students in the program seemed just “focused on checking the boxes” when it came to their guarantee requirements and the program didn’t seem as impactful as administrators hoped. They decided the university’s resources would be better spent elsewhere.

Berque believes the university has found other ways to accomplish the same objectives, including by opening a new School of Business and Leadership to teach students how to apply liberal arts knowledge and skills to fields such as business and technology. He noted that he and others at the university still see guarantees as a “good approach,” however.

DePauw’s guarantee program was partially devised to highlight the university’s existing success securing jobs for students, particularly as a liberal arts university more focused “on developing students who are good communicators and critical thinkers and can problem solve and appreciate cultural difference” than on preparing them for specific professional tracks.

Anderson believes job guarantee programs are likely to proliferate “especially in universities and colleges that are in regions that have dynamic workforce needs.”

Curry College appears to already be delivering positive job outcomes for students based on its latest available data, with 96 percent of 2021 graduates employed or accepted to graduate school within six months. But Gonzalez said that rate was calculated based on multiple data sources on only 87 percent of graduates that year and includes any type of job. So, part of the Curry Commitment will be developing the data infrastructure to track not only whether students are employed but the types of jobs they’re getting to ensure they’ve secured college-level jobs.

He noted that the guarantee program will take some effort and cost. The college has to build up its career-preparation programming and hire some additional staff members. It also has funds on hand to potentially pay off unemployed graduates’ loans, though the “goal is that we’re not having to pay a penny” because “we’ve done everything we possibly can to ensure they’ve gotten a job that they’re excited about,” he said.

Ultimately, “we believe we can’t afford not to do this.”

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