The Tallahassee Democract:Career schools are creating opportunity

March 27, 2014
Written by Curtis Austin

In Florida, the majority of the health-care and information technology graduates are educated at career schools — more than 60 percent, according to 2011-2012 state data. The same is true in other industries — 93 percent of cosmetology students, 83 percent in culinary arts and 82 percent of commercial drivers.

With such a strong track record, Florida has entrusted the education of much of its frontline workforce to private career colleges. That is why the attacks on our sector, played out over and over in news media, are so misleading. Here’s the real story of what happens at Florida’s career schools.

• Accountability: Our schools are highly regulated and accountable to our students. The more than 1,000 private career schools in Florida are licensed by the Florida Commission for Independent Education to ensure that institutions are providing quality programs and that students’ consumer rights are protected. More than 83 percent of degree-granting schools are accredited by one or more agencies that closely monitor institutions to ensure they meet defined graduation and job placement benchmarks.

• Student debt: Students in all sectors acquire debt to improve their lives through education. And the reality is, the majority of students who face financial hardships and go into default end up paying back their loans. Taxpayers made more than $66 billion from the student loan program from 2007-2012, according to the Government Accounting Office. Under federal law, the student loan program is an entitlement program and schools cannot prevent students from taking out more loans than they “need.”

• Student success: Across the country, two-year career college programs are outperforming other sectors, graduating 63 percent of students compared with the 22 percent who graduate from public colleges and the 56 percent who complete programs at private, nonprofit schools, according to an Imagine America Foundation 2013 report.

Florida’s career schools are committed to providing access, opportunity and accountability to our students. In the last year, I have visited 75 schools, observing eager students focused on their futures, actively engaged in learning and in hands-on lab work. As executive director of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges, I invite anyone who questions this to spend a day with me at a career college.

Curtis Austin is executive director of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges, which works on behalf of Florida’s 370 degree-granting and 550 non-degree granting career schools and colleges.( Contact him at

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