Susan Wolford

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?

The sector needs to implement practices that address the concerns that students ultimately focus on: the quality of the job a student obtains as a result of his/her education and the tuition level that the student had to pay in order to earn the credential that enabled getting that job. This translates into having programs that serve in-demand professions, providing quality teaching that allows students to learn the skills needed to succeed when employed and offering student services as needed to help students graduate from the program. Placement services are critical. For the schools to serve a purpose beyond what community colleges provide, they should provide the guidance, class scheduling and career-building opportunities that community colleges typically don’t provide. In doing so in a quantifiable way, the differences in tuition levels between community and career colleges can be understood and appreciated by the public and the government. Not all students may need the additional services provided by career services, and these students can take advantage of the lower tuition levels of community college.

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?

The innovations we have observed are in the level of student services and in online learning. There is much greater emphasis placed on career counseling and placement services. We are impressed when we learn that a school has as many placement personnel as they have in the admissions offices. Much more rigor seems to be exerted in understanding and exploring what employers want in the grads they seek to employ, and our school clients are actively seeking their input in creating relevant curriculum to advance their students’ immediate impact on the workplace. The use of advancing technology is also dramatically improving the educational experience in online learning. Creating personal, interactive classroom experiences where all participants are speaking live and on camera to the professor and classmates is a long way from the early days of read-and-recite, asynchronous courses that once defined online learning.

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

My personal motivation in working with career colleges is seeing the transformation of students with little to no employable skills into skilled, employable graduates that use the education they received to become productive contributors to society. As advisors to the sector, we are observers to this transformation, not actually a part of creating the transformation. While we work with the segment of school operators that are for-profit, the conversations we have are almost always around the quality of the operations: What are completion and placement rates, and what kind of jobs are your students getting? We know that if student outcomes are strong, it is likely that the financial health of the school will be good. However, strong financial results do not always predict good student outcomes. In the long run, a company’s viability is only as good as the quality of its “production.” In this case, the production being evaluated is the success of a school’s student population.

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