The Tampa Tribune: Any doubts about career colleges? Ask the 500,000 graduates


Here are the facts about for-profit higher education in Florida:

♦  More than 500,000 degrees and diplomas were earned by students at career colleges in Florida in the past five years.

♦  Currently, more than 300,000 students are enrolled in Florida in private career colleges, including 45,000 in the Tampa Bay area.

­♦  Private colleges and universities educated 60 percent of the health care graduates and 60 percent of the computer and information technology graduates last year in Florida.

With more than a half-million people completing degrees — including 50 percent of those licensed as practical nurses and 20 percent of those licensed as registered nurses — one would think that analysts would seek to determine if a reported negative experience at a career college is common to most students.

A recent Tampa Tribune article indicated that 41 percent of all G.I. Bill dollars were being expended at career colleges and universities (“For-profit colleges gouging veterans, U.S. Senate report finds,” Aug. 18). That does not surprise anyone familiar with the educational programs at these schools. A 2010 survey of veterans by the Rand Corporation and the American Council in Education indicated those who selected career colleges did so because of the career-oriented offerings with flexible schedules, like-minded adult students, flexible credit transfer rules and campuses in multiple locations.

The Tribune article, repeating criticism often lobbed at private education, failed to ask why students, including veterans, choose to attend private career schools.

In most cases, these capable adults, who have defended the free world in foreign lands and who often are juggling the demands of family and employment, have chosen the best path for themselves.

ln a changing world, much of higher education delivery is stuck in a very dated model. The model focuses on traditional students — those right out of high school, attending full time. It allows students to enroll only at the beginning of semesters. Students learn in desks or lecture halls. They learn more stuff unrelated to their occupation than applies to their chosen careers.

Nontraditional students — married, parents and working adults — usually don’t have time to learn this way. They enroll throughout the year in career schools — not just at the beginning of a semester. They study online or at one of the more than 1,000 locations in Florida. They have small classes. They don’t stop their education for “summer vacation.” Most importantly, they spend their time on education directly related to their career.

Career-oriented adults are increasingly choosing this educational option. Not only do most health care and computer students make this choice, but 90 percent of all cosmetology and 83 percent of culinary students do the same.

The proof that these choices are wise is found in the graduation statistics. For those students in two-year programs or less, almost twice as many career college students graduate as compared to their community college peers.

And if you want a career, graduation matters. The Florida Legislature has documented that career college graduates make money roughly equivalent to their community college peers, and the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that employers see little difference in their educational credentials.

Critics of career colleges almost never visit such schools to learn firsthand why so many choose to attend. They also often fail to check with government regulators tasked with determining if the complaints are legitimate or typical of student experience.

The Florida Commission for Independent Education, an agency reporting directly to the Florida commissioner of education, regulates all private career schools in the state.

At the latest commission meeting, Everest University, criticized in the Tribune article, was brought before the commission to explain all of the public attention directed at the school.

The director of the commission noted that for all the newsprint that has been devoted to Everest University, the commission has not received even one unresolved complaint from a student. Interesting.

This same commission also checks the placement rates at licensed schools not already being policed by their accreditors. So we do know that most of the students get jobs in related careers.
The facts are clear. For many students the nontraditional choice to attend a career school is the best choice. Their needs are better met. They are protected. And they finish and work. Ask the 500,000 graduates.

Curtis Austin is the executive director of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges.

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The Hill: The administration's forced extinction of for-profit colleges

August 15, 2014
By Harry C. Alford, contributor

 Imagine if the federal government decided to regulate hospitals and medical clinics by judging them strictly by their ability to achieve specific outcomes for their patients — as opposed to measuring their quality of service — or else funding would be cut off, causing them to close their doors. Moreover, not all hospitals and clinics would be subject to these regulations — just the ones in neighborhoods with older populations, higher percentages of people living in poverty, and larger numbers of Latino and African-American residents.

The scenario above would lead to the closure of hundreds of hospitals which serve the vital role of providing health services to the underserved Americans who need them most. A proposal like this would be lambasted by Americans as outrageous and harmful. However, this is exactly what the U.S. Department of Education has proposed when it comes to college programs throughout the country with its proposed "gainful employment" regulations.

While the administration's conquest of Corinthian Colleges this summer left 72,000 students and 12,000 employees without a clear path forward, those numbers appear paltry when compared to the thousands of employees and millions of students who would be affected by the proposed gainful employment regulations. Various studies have shown that approximately 1 million students are enrolled in programs that will likely lose eligibility for Title IV federal student aid under the proposed regulations, and up to 7.5 million students could lose access by 2024.

As previously noted, the administration claimed ignorance of Corinthian's tenuous finances when it delayed access to the federal funding for students choosing to attend a Corinthian institution of higher education, but those dubious claims have since been exposed as a ploy to cover up the Department of Education's blind zeal for big government. As BuzzFeed revealed in documents provided to the outlet, the department was aware of many of the details of Corinthian's financial situation as recently as May 2014. This revelation — coupled with the department's and the administration's known hostility toward private-sector schools — confirms that the department's assertions are little more than a cover up for its hasty, poorly planned actions.

While the department may be patting itself on the back now, the repercussions of its hasty actions are being felt by the thousands of students who attend Corinthian's schools. These students now face uncertain futures as the department failed to consider a plan to absorb them, as well as the impact to Corinthian’s full-time employees, who will now be forced to seek new alternatives. The department's lack of consideration for this underserved population of the U.S. will be made even clearer if its proposed gainful employment regulations become law, as they are guaranteed to have exponentially more damaging effects.

The prospect of the impact of the gainful employment regulations is more appalling when the demographics of many private-sector institutions are taken into consideration. The majority of students who attend private-sector colleges come predominantly from challenged socioeconomic segments of our communities. Students at for-profits tend to be older than traditional students, are more likely to be minorities and slightly more likely to be female. Many students are already part of the workforce and are twice as likely to have families of their own.

Analysis from Charles River Associates suggest that between 25 and 40 percent of African-American students, between 21 and 39 percent of Hispanic students, and between 24 and 41 percent of female students are enrolled in impacted programs. These are the very individuals, in every corner of our country, who are working to break into the American middle class. They are also people for whom traditional public or non-profit colleges simply aren't an option — either due to costs, schedules, admissions requirements or simply due to choice, a freedom we enjoy in this country the last time I checked.

If the proposed regulations are put in place as currently drafted, there will be a snowball effect. First, students who are reliant on federal financial aid to afford college will be denied access. The resulting reduction in enrollment could shut down entire programs and colleges, thus negatively impacting potentially all students enrolled and studying at the institution of their choosing. Some programs, striving to meet unrealistic metrics to remain viable, will greatly restrict admission of the underserved students who need it most, and only enroll low-risk students. The schools left standing will be no more accessible to underserved students than traditional colleges and universities, public or non-profit.

It won't take long before the American public's outrage against these shortsighted regulations boils forth when millions of students are forced to abandon their dreams of higher education and are stripped of one of their most important options for life improvement.

Alford is the cofounder, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.

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