Blog: Climate Change in Career Education

The climate for career training-oriented schools within certain higher education circles could be changing faster than Al Gore can say "polar ice caps".

Something that feels like respect might be quietly beginning to build in certain segments of the four-year school realm, though it’s too early to label it such. (Far be it from me to put a name to it so early on. Someone who needed five years to complete a pretty standard communications degree — with a minor in political science — couldn’t offer an opinion that wouldn’t carry enough weight in the academic community to be taken seriously.)

Once merely observed at a distance, some administrators at traditional colleges and universities tolerated career schools without attributing them much esteem. At the turn of the century, there was some acknowledgement of career colleges’ advancements in the online education realm. In many respects, they beat traditional higher ed in recognizing the value and possibility of online learning opportunities.

This minor nugget of acknowledgement was quickly shoved between the couch cushions with accusations from some naysayers who claimed online education simply made it easier for for-proift institutions to operate under the radar. No classrooms, students kept at a distance, tests conducted online with no oversight … and whatever respect that had been gained was dismissed.

Lately though, the massive amount of enrollments in for-profit schools has proven, undeniably, that the public is looking to enroll in institutions that are more conducive to their schedules, not the other way around. In this economy, graduates want more than just a better education – they want a straight path to a career in a higher-paying field.

All this, those of us in career education know. But have you ever wondered what would academic researchers at a major university find if they spent significant time researching the for-profit education industry? Considering the American labor force, the sheer numbers of graduates career training-oriented colleges provide, and the current presidential administration’s aggressive goals for creating new jobs to bolster the economy, you would likely come to same conclusion: career colleges are a vital part of America and higher education in general.

This article came to me yesterday via Google Alert. Researchers Guilbert Hentschke and William G. Tierney, two professors with the USC Rossier School of Education, have been studying the expansion of for-profit colleges such as the University of Phoenix and Capella University. This quotation from Hentschke says what we know about as plainly as it can be said:

“The Obama administration has set out goals for the United States to have one million more students a year to participate in higher education over the next ten years, and I don’t think we can reach this goal without the active participation and acceptance of for-profit education.”

Preceding that quote, makes this statement: “Hentschke and Tierney see for-profit universities as a viable alternative for working class adult students and other non-traditional and academically challenged students who are being squeezed out of traditional channels due to the current economic crisis.”

Take your pick. If you’re an executive at a career college, you can print one or both of these out and stick them on your office wall. I haven’t seen any other articles on this study, oddly enough. I doubt the Chronicle of Higher Education is going to feature much more than a small blurb, if anything. But that doesn’t change the findings.

The researchers see the value of career education. Good for them. What you’ve always believed – that your schools are viable – is indeed a truthful statement. For traditional colleges to buy in, they had to wait for a study to be conducted first. That’s their style. Maybe they will become believers. I’m not sure it really matters to the for-profit sector, though. Our mission doesn’t change. We get our hands dirty. We deal in reality. That’s our style. While other sectors of higher education are busy studying our innovations, we’re changing the face of the American labor force as unwaveringly as Mother Nature goes about her work.

Kevin Kuzma, Editor, Career College Central

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