New Uniform Policy Riles Some Tech School Students

Weeks away from a criminal justice degree, Devin Coyne figured she had her routine down until she stepped onto campus Monday and was floored by some new classroom rules.

A uniform policy — black or tan khaki pants, shoes deemed suitable by administrators and a polo shirt stamped with the school’s name — left her dumbfounded.

"I thought it was ridiculous," said the 19-year-old from Hazelwood. "I don’t see why you’d want to make adults in college wear uniforms."

Kaplan Career Institute-ICM Campus, Downtown, began notifying its 1,000 students this week of the campus-wide policy, effective Jan. 25. Leaders say the idea is to promote a sense of community, encourage professionalism and enable students to better market themselves to prospective employers.

Students entering the lobby of the private career college on Wood Street were handed the first of three polo shirts each will receive that effectively will color-code the campus.
Ms. Coyne and her classmates in criminal justice will wear hunter green shirts. Accounting and business students will don "sand pebble" shirts. Computer network technology and fashion merchandising students will come to class in blue shirts. And evening diploma students will be decked out in wine-colored shirts.

Blue jeans — a college wardrobe staple — will not be allowed, students are being told. Rules for what shoes are acceptable are being finalized.

The campus is among 73 nationwide run by Kaplan Higher Education, a division of Kaplan Inc. Michele Mazur, a spokeswoman in Chicago, said the new Pittsburgh policy reflects a broader push into uniforms being explored by the company. About 40 Kaplan campuses have all-uniform policies, some longstanding, she said.

On the Pittsburgh campus, student uniforms traditionally have been limited to about 25 percent of the enrollment, largely students in allied health fields who wear scrubs, campus President Hunter Hopkins said.

The tough economy has made it even more important for all students not only to possess the right skills but to conduct themselves professionally, he said. One measure of that is their attire.

He said many of his students are bound for careers in fields in which uniforms or dress codes are common.

"We want to have every competitive advantage for our students," he said.

But not all students agree that wearing the school’s logo is the way to get an edge.
Tashanna Hall, 19, of Mount Oliver, says students are being "turned into walking advertisements" for the school.

"Nobody likes the rule," said Ms. Hall, a criminal justice student. "Some of the teachers don’t even like it."

Ms. Coyne, due to finish her associate degree next month, said it would have made more sense had administrators simply asked students to dress professionally or in business casual attire.

"It’s a good school. I’m getting what I need from it, but I don’t think I need to be wearing their clothes," Ms. Coyne said.

Some classmates, including Brieanna Harvey, 18, of Shaler, said they will test the policy by initially not wearing the school-issued shirt. "I’m going to see what happens."

There is no data on how many campuses require uniforms, said Bob Cohen, a senior vice president with the Washington D.C.-based Career College Association.

"There are schools that do it," he said. "Sometimes schools in the automotive area, for instance, or in culinary [arts] or allied health."

Kaplan is providing the shirts without charge, Mr. Hopkins said. Students must supply their own pants.

Mr. Hopkins said the school is soliciting student feedback and will incorporate it as it refines the policy. He said uniforms should enhance student safety and campus security since it will be clear immediately by one’s attire who belongs in the building.

The school’s aim is not free advertising, Mr. Hopkins said. He attributed much of the unhappiness to unfamiliarity with the policy.

"My sense is most students are supportive of this and more of them are supportive as more of them hear about it," he said.

Indeed, some students voiced support for the policy — and the three new shirts — among them Jameelah Miller, 20, of Penn Hills, who stood outside the building and said uniforms will remove the need to obsess over what to wear.

Her peers "are kind of upset because they have to wear the shirts [but] I thought it was cool.

They’re finally giving us something," she said of the polo shirts. "I don’t have any problem with it."

Rasul Mumin, 30, a computer network technology student from the North Side, is fine as well with the idea. He’ll be in a blue shirt with black khaki pants.

And his choice of shoes?

"Black," he said. "I like to be color-coordinated."


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