Proprietary Schools Serve Non-traditional Students

Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American philosopher and mid-19th-century Transcendentalist, once said, "The secret in education lies in respecting the student." Today it’s the respect Virginia’s proprietary schools show their nontraditional students, by accommodating their educational and lifestyle needs, that help them open new doors of opportunity in their lives.

Stratford University, a proprietary school with three Virginia-based campuses and one in India, focuses on a curriculum that delivers the competencies that employers seek and teaches students in the way that they learn best. Stratford has campuses in Falls Church and Woodbridge, and plans to open one in Richmond in fall 2011.

"We have a placement rate of around 82 percent in Virginia and 93 percent in our Delhi campus," said Dr. Richard R. Shurtz, president and CEO of Stratford. “Placement is the key because letting people attend school while not providing them with the absolute latest skill sets necessary to be employable would be a disservice to the student.”

Stratford’s average student age is 30, and many wish to launch their careers as quickly as possible. The university offers five 10-week quarters, so it’s possible (if you squeeze out all the traditional school breaks) to finish a bachelor’s degree in 2½ years and a master’s degree in 15 months. (

Offering morning and evening classes to students who have enough skills to get placed in a full-time job before graduation is another way Stratford removes roadblocks on behalf of their adult learners. This is particularly true in the field of culinary arts, where shift changes are commonplace.

“Our students can finish their degree while working full time,” said Shurtz. “If an employer says they have to work the morning shift, they can just switch to evening classes.”

“In a four-year school you spend the first two years taking liberal arts courses, which don’t always interest the student,” said Shurtz. “Some kids tend to get a little restless with that approach.”

Strayer University continues to add new programs in computer information systems, culinary arts and hospitality management, health sciences and business administration. Software engineering is its most popular master’s degree program. Strayer has 12 state campuses (

Bryant & Stratton College is another proprietary school with a statewide presence. It serves approximately 13,000 students in four states (Virginia, Wisconsin, New York and Ohio) with 17 locations. (

“Bryant & Stratton is a career college and very much focused on an outcome-based education,” said Tracy Bennington Nannery, Bryant & Stratton’s COO. “We help that very diverse, career-focused student population that is often underrepresented or underserved in higher education.”

Bryant & Stratton began in 1854. Roughly one-third of its students have attended other colleges, and many of them have not had positive educational experiences. The school typically serves first-generation students around the age of 28.

One example of the caliber of family support services offered to the student population with families is the Children’s College.

“Our students are able to focus on their studies, knowing they have a very viable day-care option at all three Virginia campuses,” said Nannery. “On the Virginia Beach campus we have a lot of military students whose spouses can be deployed at any time, so they need this additional support.” Other campuses are in Richmond and Hampton.

The school, which offers 25 degree programs, helps students before and after graduation so they will always be competitive in any market. Forty percent are in the area of health care and 27 percent in business administration.

“Each student graduates with a portfolio and learns how to use it to stand out amongst other job applicants,” said Nannery. “Graduating students also are given a career mapping tool, which projects what additional training they will need in their chosen field.”

The University of Phoenix was founded in 1976 when the first round of baby boomers was turning 30. Today, thirtysomethings are looking to advance in their organization or have the desire to move into a more lucrative career.

“A student who chooses a proprietary education comes to the University of Phoenix first and foremost because we offer a quality education,” said Gregg Crowe, campus director for the Richmond/Virginia Beach campus of University of Phoenix. “Our unique educational model is designed to help the adult learner by focusing on one academic subject at a time.”

Students attending the University of Phoenix take classes anywhere from five-to-six weeks in length, as opposed to 13 weeks for a traditional school semester. When they complete the course, they receive three college credits and move on to the next subject.

The University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest proprietary university, offering more than 100 degree programs in 200-plus locations throughout the USA, Canada, Europe, Puerto Rico and Mexico. The schools offer two-year associate degrees through doctorates. In Virginia, the median age of students is 36. (


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