Blog: Overlooking the Positive

Each time I book a vacation, I head straight to websites like to read reviews about my chosen destination and lodgings. I like gaining insight into the best local restaurants and gleaning insider information that I couldn’t get anywhere "official". And every time, no matter which destination I’ve chosen, I know I am going to read more negative reviews than positive. But I never let them scare me.

I know that when satisfied vacationers return home, they regale their families with accounts of fun in the sun and plaster photos into Facebook albums. Unsatisfied travelers, on the other hand, head straight to the Internet — intent on making sure their tales of woe are read by as many people as possible.

Last week, The Chronicle of Higher Education released an article reporting that 17 states have pledged to take steps to drastically improve college completion rates. Their aim is to help to meet the goal set by President Obama to have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

Immediately after publication, the comments started rolling in, and the negative far overshadowed the positive. Throughout the stream of dissent ran an assumption of an “either/or” scenario: that Americans must choose between becoming a “laborer” or obtaining a college degree. Yes, it seems that the majority of readers still believe that college only means a Bachelor’s degree, and that blue collar jobs go to high school drop-outs. Here are a few takes on the report:

  • March 02, 2010 at 04:15 pm “This industrial model of "completion rates" (and "retention rates" as well) will mean the death of high-quality college instruction … The consequence of this will be grade-inflation and devaluation of the degree.”
  • March 02, 2010 at 05:31 pm “ … A four year degree is not everyone’s birthright and it shouldn’t be. Sixteen years in school is in fact not for everyone. That is not elitism. It is just difference. Manual labor folk are important and necessary, and a university education doesn’t make someone smart anymore than the lack of one makes them dumb. There are more ways of thinking well than are found in the universities …”
  • March 03, 2010 at 09:15 am “… I am all for suggesting that not all persons should hold a degree, but only when the children of America’s top earners decide they want to be laborers rather than college educated. In the end what we are really talking about here is keeping the nation’s poorest in their place.”

As with negative reviews of a charming hotel, the majority of those commenting failed to see the positive that career colleges could have on these states’ completion initiatives. Unfortunately, it’s easy to overlook the positive aspects of a sector of education that tends to get passed over in general by the general public.

As has happened too many times before, career colleges have been looked over. To traditional college graduates, the privileged upper-middle class, and the majority of those who know of career colleges only what the media tells them; we are either invisible or we are part of the problem.

The masses choose to look over the fact that Obama, organizations like Complete College America, and the states that have pledged themselves to the new completion initiative have plans to increase graduation rates through practices that have been in place at career colleges for years, like more one-on-one attention and the implementation of “faster paths to degrees and credentials.”

They choose to look over the notion that “laborers” often require more stringent certification throughout their careers than do many executives. For example, while a typical business student can graduate with a Bachelor’s degree at 22 and coast his way up the career ladder until 65, electricians are often expected to attend National Electrical Code classes, regular safety programs, manufacturer-specific training, and management training courses until retirement.

They choose to look over the fact that a goal to make degrees from traditional institutions more prolific does not necessarily make admissions standards into these institutions more lax. In fact, higher retention standards should theoretically make admissions at each institution more selective. A higher college completion rate doesn’t mean handing out degrees like candy. It means making more options – better options – available to more people.

As a sector, we know all this. For years, we’ve been trying to educate the public on the idea that not every college can be right for someone, but there is a college somewhere for everyone. It can take a long time to change the collective opinion of a group no matter what the subject, and opinions hold even more staunchly when the subject is one of national importance, like secondary education.

Through the execution of a movement that makes career colleges more prominent, the appointment of a University of Phoenix grad to the White House, and the testimonials of students whose lives have been forever changed, we’re making our positive presence known on a macro level.

And next time you stay in a really great hotel … take the time to leave a glowing review.

By Jenni Valentino

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