Denny Spisak

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?

I’ve always believed that with adversity, there is opportunity. I see such a situation right now with the turmoil we’ve experienced the last two years. Through all the press we have garnered during that time, some more positive than others, we are now recognized as a true sector in postsecondary education. Individuals know what we do, the clientele we serve and our purpose. We need to capitalize on that recognition in a positive manner. Foremost, this means staying with our roots as institutions that provide job skills in a short period of time.

There is a major transformation taking place in education due to technology and how the students of today learn, which is very different from how I learned. This is our opportunity to differentiate ourselves from others in postsecondary education. Learning tools are available and technology is in place to allow us to address the learning needs and styles of the net generation student. Taking the initiative to transform from a broadcast method of teaching to a facilitated learning environment will not only provide effective learning for the individual student but also increase our retention rates.

The emphasis on financial literacy is long overdue. Many of our students have never had the opportunity to obtain credit. We need to place major emphasis on financial responsibility and the consequences of financial abuse, and it needs to happen from the moment students enter our schools.

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?

A few years ago, I read Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott. The book cites how individuals of the Internet generation differ from individuals of previous generations. There is a major disconnect between how we teach and how students of today learn, which, in many cases, contributes to our dropout rates and ineffective learning. By simply rearranging our classrooms, providing instructors with skills to become facilitators of learning and utilizing existing digital learning tools, we can make our classrooms vibrant, exciting and effective havens of learning. As businesses, as well as educational institutions, we can do this quicker than our counterparts in postsecondary education and can differentiate ourselves in a positive manner. The cost will be minimal – especially when you consider how much the bottom line will be saved by keeping a handful of students who otherwise may have dropped out of school. A class session would offer a variety of instructional methods, from utilization of digital learning tools to peer discussion, brief presentations by the facilitator, and demonstrations by the facilitator or students. I’m seeing some schools beginning to go in this direction, but we need the majority of our schools to do so if we are to take advantage of this situation and differentiate ourselves from other sectors of postsecondary education.

What quality about career colleges or their students motivates you personally?

We have 3.2 million students in our schools. Many are individuals that would not succeed in the public, postsecondary sectors. As a matter of fact, many would not be accepted by such institutions. We have been a haven for individuals that have not been successful in traditional schools but who realize they need skills to make themselves marketable in the workforce. We don’t look at their past history, but rather, we look at their desire to better themselves, and we give them the opportunity to do so.

I’m motivated by the success we see from our schools in changing the lives of individuals in a positive manner. I’m motivated by the reality that others do not see this and are doing their best to do harm to our sector. When I’m meeting with legislators, I always ask what would happen to 3.2 million individuals that want to become contributing members of our society if career colleges did not exist and why our schools are singled out to meet Department of Education regulations that other institutions in postsecondary education are not required to meet.

Largely, I’m motivated by the success stories of individuals that entered our schools with little hope but left our schools with a bright future for themselves and their families

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