Early in April, Time magazine published a 556-word piece on Lansing Community College’s Get a Skill, Get a Job program, which guarantees students a job with a year of graduation or their money back.
A writer from the Associated Press’ Lansing bureau put out a story the next day.
And that’s when the floodgates opened.
The story of LCC’s unorthodox offer has since run in more than 300 newspapers and appeared on dozens of television stations.
It made Al Roker’s morning show on the Weather Channel. LCC President Brent Knight did an interview with Neil Cavuto on the Fox Business Network.
And the media attention isn’t quite over. Late last month, a crew from CNN spent the day at LCC’s West Campus, where Get a Skill classes are now in their fourth week.
"I would suggest that in the year 2010, Lansing Community College will have had more favorable publicity than any community college in the nation," Knight said.
Which isn’t bad, particularly considering that refunding the full tuition of all 26 students in the program would cost LCC less than $60,000.
It’s not hard to see the appeal. In a down economy, where the link between education and employability seems to be growing more tenuous, a college in Michigan puts its money where its mouth is.
But though LCC’s public relations staff did pitch the story to a number of national magazines, Knight said his intended audience wasn’t editors and producers. "Our goal was to offer something that was concrete to those people who are discouraged," he said, to those who might not have bothered returning to school because they didn’t believe it would make a difference.
The offer didn’t convince as many people as LCC thought it might.
The college originally had planned to offer four six-week programs that would train students to be computer numeric control (CNC) machinists, pharmacy techs, call center workers and quality inspectors. Only the machinist and pharmacy programs attracted enough students to go forward.
Though 224 people applied and 217 were invited to orientation, only 84 actually showed up and only 26 got in.
Brenda Frederick was one of those. Though she lives in Hemlock, nearly 70 miles from Lansing, she saw a story about the program on a Flint television station.
And she said it wasn’t just the possibility of a refund that drew her attention, but the sense "that they were believing in their program."
Not that she took their word for it entirely.
"I looked up on the Internet to make sure there were CNC jobs up in my area," she said.
LCC is hedging its bets, of course. Applicants were pre-screened. To get the money-back guarantee, they’ll have to attend all their classes, complete all of their assigned work and participate in a job-readiness workshop.
And there’s a reason why LCC isn’t making the offer for English majors.
The risk, said Clint Jones, one of the instructors for the CNC machining program, is "pretty low. Even before we had Get a Skill, Get a Job, we’ve had 100 percent placement."
‘About getting a job’
And it’s that sort of assurance that several students said made the difference.
"The money-back guarantee wasn’t the big appeal to me, because I’m sure they’ll find us a job or they wouldn’t offer it," said George Sutfin, who worked 33 years for General Motors first in Lansing, then in Grand Rapids.
Which is something he said he tried to explain to CNN.