The Florida Times- Union : Guest column: T-U wrong in student debt 'blame game'

The Florida Times- Union
By: Kathy Mizereck

The level of debt incurred by students getting a college education, exacerbated by the recession, is a serious national problem. But it is not one that can be blamed almost entirely on career colleges, as you imply in your March 31 editorial.
Instead, the editorial's emphasis would have been better placed on the fact that student debt extends to all schools and universities, both public and private.

When loan defaults are analyzed, based on a student's socioeconomic level, they are substantially the same across all institutions. The higher percentage of defaults at our schools is because of the students we serve: adults with minimal family support seeking to improve their lives.
 Further, much criticism of career colleges stems from a U.S. Department of Education trial student loan default rate analysis that focuses on a three-year period ending in 2008. The department has admitted its statistics were miscalculated, which marked many schools with inflated projected default rates.

Critics have relentlessly quoted these inaccurate default rates that would have resulted in the closing of programs in schools across the state had they not been merely trial calculations.

In an effort to deter students from over borrowing and defaulting, our member schools offer workshops about loan responsibility, how to manage it and how to defer debt during the admission process.
Students who choose to enroll in Florida's licensed career colleges do so because they want to be trained in relevant skills and job-ready when they graduate. Awaiting them is a future in growth occupations such as health care, the booming technology sector and criminal justice.

In health care alone, more than 60 percent of the state's credentialed graduates in 2009 - nurses, technicians, medical assistants - came from career colleges.

Career college two-year degree programs successfully graduate 60 percent of their students, compared to the 20 percent graduation rate for community college degree programs, reported by the Department of Education Institute of Education Science.

Our career-focused programs play a vital role in postsecondary education system and are the chosen path to independence and advancement for hundreds of thousands of Floridians. Therefore, our association advocates a single regulatory standard for all institutions of higher education as the federal government attempts to rein in long-term student debt.

Kathy Mizereck is executive director of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges in Tallahassee.


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