About a year ago, Steve Jobs told President Obama that the United States technology sector was in desperate need of skilled engineers. His solution: keep up with the demand by utilizing vocational schools to train more Americans.
Otherwise, he said, the United States will continue to outsource hundreds of thousands of jobs to China at a time when millions of Americans are still out of work.
Vocational colleges, also known as private-sector colleges and universities, emphasize a career-focused education in a way that prepares their students to compete in a 21st century global economy. They ready their students to fill the talent void Steve Jobs was talking about, and they do it in a way that takes into account the needs of the thousands of students who attend these schools every year.
A far cry from the one-size-fits-all approach of many public or non-profit higher education institutions, private sector schools offer flexible class scheduling, accelerated program completion plans and online courses — valuable tools in helping students, most being non-traditional, balance school, work, family and other responsibilities.
Private-sector colleges and universities have also played a critical role in educating health care professionals, one of the few job sectors that saw strong employment statistics during the recession and beyond. These schools educated nearly 40,000 nurses at the last official count in 2009-10. And with the steady influx of retiring Baby Boomers in need of health care services, these schools are producing the next generation of health care professionals ready to tend to the growing population of new retirees.
At a time when a post-secondary credential has become requisite for landing a job, private-sector colleges and universities are helping students gain the skills-based expertise that so many employers are seeking. More than ever, employers want to spend less time training new hires because resources are so scarce, making graduates of career-oriented schools so marketable.
And while millions of students continue to attend standard liberal arts colleges, a new generation of non-traditional students such as working adults, parents, military veterans and others are taking Steve Jobs' advice to heart by choosing to earn degrees at private-sector colleges and universities, and obtaining the skills and training they need to compete successfully.
Arthur Keiser is chairman of the board of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.