BY CURTIS AUSTIN
Special to The Tampa Tribune
Published: August 27, 2014
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
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.
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
Curtis Austin is the executive director of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges.
Direct link to article: http://tbo.com/list/news-opinion-commentary/any-doubts-about-career-colleges-ask-the-500000-graduates-20140827/