Washington Watch: Recent moves by career colleges usher in new era

As our sector pulls together under the new banner of the Career Education Colleges and Universities (formerly the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities), it’s a relief to stand on higher ground and look down, now, at where we were earlier in the year.

Scrutiny and sanctions levelled on our schools — both by the government and news media — have continued deep into 2016. And this has happened in spite of schools improving their practices and complying with new requirements. But the last few months of activity become particularly interesting when you focus on the ways our schools have responded to positively meet these challenges head-on.

With heaps of criticism levelled on them, DeVry and Apollo Group have made moves that ultimately work to improve student outcomes. In a step that gives career college students more leverage, these two giants are making it easier for students to pursue legal action.

According to The Washington Post, DeVry University and University of Phoenix will no longer bar students from filing class-action lawsuits or otherwise taking their grievances to the courts, putting an end to mandatory arbitration clauses that consumer advocates say take away student rights.

Some career colleges have come under fire for including arbitration clauses in their enrollment contracts to protect their financial interests. DeVry Education Group did not publicize its decision to eliminate the arbitration clause. College Spokesman Ernest Gibble said the company took action last May as a part of an “overall effort to rethink the student experience.”
Apollo Education Group, the owner of University of Phoenix, also said in May it would stop including the clause in enrollment agreements at Phoenix and Western International University. This began on July 1.
In a statement, Greg Cappelli, chief executive at Apollo, said:
“We have worked hard to further improve the student experience at all of our institutions, and it’s clear that eliminating mandatory arbitration is the right choice for all of our students. This decision joins with a host of efforts already underway to improve student outcomes.”

Career colleges and their recruitment efforts focused on the military have drawn ire from some sector naysayers over the years, despite the schools’ numerous accomplishments. But on a more positive note, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., is forwarding an amendment that would require the Pentagon to allow any college approved for military tuition benefits to have unrestricted access to recruit on military bases.

According to The Huffington Post, veterans and military groups, as well as other senators, are now working to stop the Manchin amendment. This amendment, adopted by voice vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee, would allow career colleges access to recruit service members on bases. The existing Pentagon rules allow all schools fair access to military bases, if they obtain permission and agree to make truthful disclosures to students and avoid over-aggressive and deceptive recruiting.

Despite the negativity it has drawn, the Manchin amendment is a step in the right direction. Career colleges should have the access that other schools have, especially as the entire sector continues to make strides in improving the way it delivers education. We need to turn the corner on all this negativity, and perhaps the Manchin amendment could be seen as one of the first positives for the sector in quite a long time.

When you couple something like the Manchin amendment with what’s happening at the Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU), you see an exciting new era beginning where all schools, despite how they are arranged organizationally, work together toward a common goal: to educate our students for the betterment of the American workforce. This is a goal that can only be accomplished when schools are united.

Only a collective of career institutions, operating as one, can hold one another accountable and stand shoulder to shoulder with institutions of other descriptions now being welcomed into CECU. We have known all along about the caliber of education our schools deliver and how that compares with traditional colleges and universities. Now, maybe for the first time, the rest of the world will come to see it too.

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