Michael J. Offerman: At Capella University, We Welcome the Discussion

More than 800 women and men from around the country will gather today at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis to walk across the stage and receive the degree they have earned from Capella University. They will represent the almost 40,000 people who have turned to Capella to advance their careers, primarily through our masters or doctorate programs.

While today’s graduates may not necessarily look like the students participating in a commencement ceremony at the University of Minnesota (the average age of a Capella student is 39), they will look a lot like people you see every day. These are purpose-driven learners and leaders who are balancing their education with the responsibilities that come with a family and career.

Our growth as a university comes at a time of increased enrollment for many for-profit colleges and universities, and as important questions are being raised in Washington about how to ensure that students are getting value for their education dollar. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa had a commentary in these pages last month ("The next debt bubble: For-profit higher education," July 17) about the need to preserve the options and innovations provided by for-profit schools while cracking down on "bad actors." At Capella, we welcome this important discussion.

Capella is a proud, Minnesota-based university with more than 1,500 Minnesota employees. Our greatest strength is a mission-driven culture that focuses squarely on providing quality education and delivering a great experience to our students. The data demonstrates our success. In a 2009 survey of our alumni, more than 90 percent said they were satisfied with their degree and would recommend Capella. More than half of our students reported that they advanced in their career, received a promotion or successfully changed careers within one year of graduating. Capella’s students have a remarkably low student loan default rate.

We believe the future of education is going to be determined by a university’s ability to measure and demonstrate the learning and career outcomes of its students. That’s why Capella is one of the founding institutions of the groundbreaking, multi-institutional Transparency by Design initiative, which provides tangible, nationally comparable information about students’ learning outcomes in specific fields and programs. Capella provides an unprecedented level of detail about its learning and career outcomes at capellaresults.com.

As lawmakers and regulators take on the tough questions about how best to maintain the flexibility and innovation offered by for-profit schools while cracking down on "bad actors," Capella wants to work with Congress and the Department of Education to focus on greater transparency and accountability. It is critical that as lawmakers work to protect students, they do not raise even more obstacles in front of future graduates.

Michael J. Offerman is president of Capella University.

STAR TRIBUNE

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