The recent debate and subsequent regulations in Washington singling out private sector colleges and universities have produced an onslaught of media coverage that paints a singular, negative picture of these institutions.
While I agree that there are, in fact, a few schools that have had problems in this sector of higher education – just as public and private not-for-profit schools have had their own issues – the overwhelming majority of private sector schools provide a valid and crucial service to millions of Americans seeking a better education.
At the Pittsburgh Technical Institute (PTI), for example, our business and education model flies in the face of criticisms made of private sector colleges and universities, many of which have been propagated over the past year.
When I purchased the school in 1990, it was in bankruptcy court, and had 230 students and only one academic program. Today, we have 2000 students and 22 programs of study.
With the majority of instruction provided by full-time faculty – a rarity in higher education these days – we are sending a signal that only the most committed of staff will suffice. This single characteristic provides insight into just how invested we are in creating a community of teachers and staff that are committed to the success of our students.
That is also why we utilize an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, that allows faculty and staff to own approximately 88 percent of Pittsburgh Technical Institute. Within the next two years, employees will own 100 percent of the school, as each year they get a slight increase in ownership share.
We also have a Career Services Department to help students find part-time employment while still in school. The department organizes mock interviews, career fairs and helps alumni with employment in addition to free brush-up courses. With 17 full-time employees dedicated to helping students find jobs, we could not be more committed to ensuring all of our students reach their near-term and long-term career goals.
Like many private sector schools, PTI has a majority of students who commute; in our case, close to 60 percent come from surrounding towns in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. This fact underscores a key characteristic of private colleges and universities in the United States: these programs offer skills and training to many nontraditional students, many of which are working adults or parents.
The fact is, many Americans are simply looking for a way to advance their skills and improve their marketability in an already competitive job market. In this sense, private sector schools have taken on the most utilitarian of roles. By focusing programs on career-specific skills, vocational institutions are preparing the next generation of American workers to be leaders in the job sectors of the future – business administration, computer design, healthcare services and information technology.
It is time for state and federal policymakers to stop regarding the higher education status quo as the only viable option going forward. Private sector colleges and universities can and must continue to play an important role in ensuring America’s competitiveness around the world.
Jack McCartan is the past president of the Pittsburgh Technical Institute and current member of PTI’s Board of Trustees.