Robert L. Martin

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 believe our sector must continue its long and proud tradition of exceptional student services. Our student services set us apart from other higher education institutions, but we can always do better. The Foundation hopes to help the sector by working with Wonderlic on our Educational Benchmark Study.

We have jointly initiated a research project that will develop educational benchmarks of student attitudes, opinions, performance and satisfaction that can be used to help future students have the best overall educational experience, as well as begin to dispel the cloud of doubt around our sector. These benchmarks can be utilized as standards by which schools can support the improvement of their administrative and classroom processes. This project will strive to identify the key influencing factors of student satisfaction, academic achievement and gainful employment.

We hope this study will provide both concrete benchmarks by which schools can measure themselves, as well as insight the sector can use to develop an action plan to solidify America’s trust.

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?

One of the Imagine America Foundation’s primary tasks is our scholarship and award programs. However, we’ve realized that we have a larger responsibility. This involves supporting students throughout their educational experience, all the way through to obtaining a job. We call this our 21st Century Student Services Initiative, which is a multi-tiered approach that helps students deal with challenges outside the classroom and allows us to address other nonacademic retention issues that have caused students to fail in the past.

The process still begins with our scholarship award, which has provided $75 million in tuition support since inception to career college students nationwide. With our new initiatives, we offer additional support such as staying on top of their finances (including their student loans) with our Financial Planning Made Simple (FPMS) video tutorial. According to the survey led by Wonderlic, the FPMS video tutorial is already impacting student borrowers. After watching the video, 15 percent of career college students strongly agreed that they decided to borrow less money for school, and 26 percent agreed. Overall, the video tutorial received a 41 percent favorable rating in encouraging students to borrow more conservatively.

In March of 2012, to help our colleges and their students, we joined forces with Pearson Learning to provide a website dedicated to student success. We want to keep these students motivated to succeed. The tips will focus on four basic categories: Life Balance, Study Skills, Finance and Professionalism. As students apply for an Imagine America scholarship or award, they will receive emails with tips to keep them motivated to succeed.

Finally, we are currently working on an “employment portal.” I don’t want to give away too many details, because the project is still in development, but the Foundation will be involved in helping students prepare their resumes and cover letters, as well as prepare for interviews. We’re tremendously excited to take our service offerings to the next level and help students secure a job in a related field.

The future, as we see it at the Imagine America Foundation, is an exciting one. We believe our 21st Century Student Services Initiative will provide students with more confidence, better abilities to succeed in the classroom and with their finances, and the support they need to find their dream – a job in their field of choice. Our role in the future goes well beyond keeping students in class. We have a responsibility to our students to help them better their lives.

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

One of the reasons I have been in this sector for the last 15 years is the students. I can’t tell you how many times I hear from students who are the first in their family to go to college or are single parents going back to school to make a better life for their children. As you know, many of our students come from backgrounds that may encourage them not to succeed, but once they enter our schools, they excel. They are an inspiration to all. I attribute this success to the students’ will to succeed and to the career college owners and operators who are continuously finding innovative ways to meet the students’ needs.

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