The following letter was sent to the New York Times.
To the Editor:
Peter S. Goodman’s March 14 article, "In Hard Times, Lured Into Trade School and Debt," relies on a few anecdotes to attack an entire sector that’s filling a vital role in providing higher education to 2.8 million Americans.
Reading the article, I came away with no sense of the career college sector’s critically important role in educating almost 10% of postsecondary students, many of whom would otherwise be shut out of higher education and the opportunity to achieve their professional dreams and to grow our economy. Also ignored were the millions of satisfied and successful students who chose career education over other alternatives.
I was disappointed to see a very basic error in the second paragraph of the article, which was corrected in later editions at our request, although no correction has been appended to the story.
Mr. Goodman stated that our education charges in "excess of $30,000" per year for tuition. He could have easily gone to the College Board annual report to see that the average annual tuition for career colleges in 2009-2010 was $14,174.
I was equally surprised to see Mr. Goodman repeating the nonsensical argument that students who receive Pell grants and attend our schools in large numbers are tied to "aggressive, sometimes deceitful recruiting practices."
Our sector prides itself on doing a better job helping Americans, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, navigate the often confusing path to federal aid. We share the concern of Deputy Under Secretary of Education Robert Shireman that Pell grant money is used effectively.
We are willing to accept and encourage students to pursue educational opportunity, even if they do not have college "bred in the bone," with well-to-do parents prepared to pay for their education. Isn’t expanding educational opportunity a priority for our entire country? And if low income students cannot gain access to traditional higher education — and, when they do, if they do not receive a federal grant to which they are entitled — shouldn’t Mr. Goodman be condemning those other sectors of our educational system for their shortcomings and praising our sector for our successes?
The article asserted that career college education comes at substantial taxpayer expense. The truth is career colleges receive $1 for every $7 awarded to community colleges.
It is tragic when a student attending any university can not find success after leaving; however, the majority of the 2.8 million students we educated last year had a different experience.
The article claims that career education delivers "dubious benefits" when in fact we have an overall 70 percent placement rate for students — a figure not tracked for traditional higher education.
The story asserts that the recession has created a bonanza for career education when in fact our schools have been growing in double digits for the last decade because they provide excellent educational value.
The Obama administration is seeking to quell recruitment abuses, an effort our schools have been making for years. A recent GAO report found that recruitment abuses by our schools diminished after the implementation of regulations, while it went up among other private higher education institutions. Overall, the report found that recruitment abuses were roughly the same for both sectors of private higher education.
My organization provided Mr. Goodman ample data about the role our sector plays in higher education and the positive impact it is having for students, job creation, US competitiveness, our health care system, and many other crucial issues–none of which appear in his article.
For instance, in the allied health fields last year, an astounding 54 percent of all graduates were career college students. In states such as Florida, the percentage is much higher. Furthermore, the graduation rate for two-year career colleges is more than twice that for community colleges, and we do a much better job at graduating low-income students. The graduation rate at career colleges serving predominantly low-income students is almost two and a half times that of community colleges serving predominantly low-income students.
Needless to say, our 2.8 million students — primarily working adults, including many veterans — are insulted that the The New York Times has branded them as "the new poor" and asserted that they were "lured" into our schools.
I doubt that current and former senior government officials, hospitality sector leaders, medical and legal professionals, allied health care providers and other well informed, sophisticated students would say they were attracted to a career college for any other reason than it was the best educational choice for them.
But let’s not battle anecdote with anecdote. Let’s look at facts. The nursing graduates of our schools–almost 10% of all nurses receiving degrees last year–pass required examinations at the same or even higher rates than their contemporaries who attend traditional schools.
Nowhere did the article mention that more than 75 percent of our students work while pursuing their education; and more than 76 percent are independent, 47 percent have dependents, and 31 percent are single parents. Almost half are the first person in their family to go to college, and nearly a quarter come from families with incomes of less than $20,000.
A witness for the Government Accountability Office explained in a Congressional hearing last fall that student default rates are tied to socio-economic and demographic status, not the type of institution. We agree that student loan default rates are higher for low income students and minority students, and we educate them in larger numbers. The rate in our sector is consistent with community colleges and minority serving institutions.
We work hard to ensure our students understand the price of their education and weigh the speed and flexibility with which we provide it. Our institutions of higher learning provide education at all levels from certificate to doctoral and other postgraduate professional degrees. We offer this array because we work closely with employers to make sure we are educating the workers they need to keep their companies competitive.
Career colleges are an essential part of the solution for restoring this country’s global educational and economic standing. Our schools are playing an important role in helping the United States lower unemployment, boost America’s global competitiveness, fill jobs in key industries such as health care and IT, and increase the number of college graduates by 2020.
Harris N. Miller
CEO/President, Career College Association
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