Given the extraordinary regulatory and political challenges facing career education, what improvements/innovations does the sector need to implement to remain a leader in higher education?
Partnerships. Our schools need to establish relationships with local postsecondary institutions, politicians, businesses, community service groups, workforce agencies, media and secondary schools. We can best tell our success stories by partnering with local groups. Imagine a school so entrenched in a community that its absence would be tragic. A school so unfairly attacked that its students, graduates and community are outraged. Next, we need to pick our battles and be actively involved in fighting them. There is no doubt our sector has been unfairly criticized, but has each school done everything it can to set the record straight? Are we all actively involved and supporting our state and national associations in taking a stand against harmful regulations? Do we respond to all calls for comments? Are we educating our employees on the issues we face? I know I could do more. Additionally, we need to educate our elected officials. I am amazed at how little they know about our sector. Finally, we need to police ourselves. Our associations should not accept schools that don’t meet the standards we set, and schools should hold each other accountable.
Please explain the innovations you’ve brought to (or observed in) career education. What led you to recognize the need for these innovations? What has been their impact on students and higher education?
As I mentioned earlier, I believe our schools need partnerships. Our New Castle school has become a critical part of the community. The school currently has articulation agreements with two state universities and is in discussions with another for the delivery of general education classes to our students. A local high school has approached us about training high school students in the afternoon for credit toward postsecondary education. An economic development group located in a city 50 miles away has asked us to set up a classroom for training. The city will provide the facilities free of charge. Our employer advisory committee has over 50 members and plays an active role in curriculum and equipment input as well as classroom visits. Our school leaders attend nearly all local political functions. Our facilities are made available to the chamber of commerce, workforce groups, roundtable discussions and town hall meetings. The media has become our friend. We have participated in talk shows on both television and radio. When local news stories regarding training happen, we are part of the discussion. I believe we could rally the community on our behalf if necessary.
What quality about career colleges or their students motivates you personally?
I am motivated to fight for the population we serve. Unfortunately, I believe it is a population being squeezed out of higher education. Why should a 40- or 50-year-old man or woman be required to get a GED to be a welder or a truck driver or to learn to drywall? Additionally, I believe financial aid is backward. There should be a funding incentive for short-term training programs. As it is now, schools have an incentive to make programs longer. Contrary to many beliefs, there are a lot of jobs out there that only require short-term training. On the positive side, I am inspired by watching our schools in action. Motivated by the hope we provide, the passion and relentless determination of the instructors and the success stories I hear time and time again. It is the best business in the world, and I wouldn’t trade it.