Fighting for a place in a slew of new legislation, about 100 high-ranking members of the Career College Association descended on Capitol Hill in March.
CCA arranged about 250 individual meetings with legislators as part of its annual Hill Days event. The membership organization is the flagship association for career colleges, representing more than 1,300 accredited postsecondary institutions. Colleges belonging to CCA support, each year, about two million students employed in more than 200 occupational fields.
The challenge for members on this day of meetings was to debrief officials on the top issues facing the sector during sessions typically lasting 20 minutes or less. Most of the issues centered on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), in which career colleges hope to level the playing field with traditional colleges and universities.
The act, which has languished in the approval process since its inception on May 5, 2004, governs many areas of education finance. In Congress’ last term, Republicans did not fully reauthorize HEA, leaving the door open for the new Democratic-controlled Congress to change the laws.
About 20 or so small groups of CCA supporters visited with both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. Four issues were the primary focus for these meetings:
“It’s only one day, but the impact can be significant,” said Joe Davis, the current Chair of the Imagine America Foundation. “Many of the newer senators simply don’t know the role career colleges play in educating and training the 21st century workforce. For the ones who do, Hill Day is a chance to reaffirm our position and make sure our allies remain champions of our cause.”
Davis is President and CEO of MedTech College in Indianapolis, Ind., and Wall, N.J., and past Chairman of the board of CCA. He said the complexity of the issues facing career colleges was a factor in narrowing discussions to a handful of specific issues.
INCREASING FEDERAL INVESTMENT
The number of students receiving federal student aid has increased significantly in the past 20 years. However, increases to the maximum amount of assistance available through the Pell Grant and other federal financial aid programs haven’t kept pace with inflation, Davis said.
Increasing the maximum Pell Grant award levels, as CCA suggests in its higher education platform, would prevent the excessive debt students encounter in obtaining an education. The organization is also in favor of exploring innovative options, such as “front loading,” which would provide increased assistance to students during their first two years of college.
As another possible solution, CCA members proposed boosting federal investment in campus-based financial aid programs, such as Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Federal Work-Study and Perkins Loans.
TRANSFER OF CREDITS
While the majority of CCA’s membership schools are accredited by either national or regional agencies, nationally accredited institutions are often viewed as inferior in the regionally accredited sector. Students are impacted when they attempt to move credits from nationally accredited institutions to regional ones and find they don’t transfer. To quell the disappointment and financial loss caused by this issue, CCA’s position is to publicly disclose transfer of credit policies and specifically state whether the institution denies credits solely upon the basis of the type of accreditation of the institution.
“Our students are being told flat out that credits will not be accepted despite the fact that we are a nationally accredited university,” said Greg Shields, Regional Director of Operations for National College. “Certainly they are being penalized, because they have a very strong interest in continuing their education, and the door is being closed to them.”
MODIFYING THE 90-10 RULE
Improvements CCA proposed for the 90-10 rule would remove the penalization many low-income students face in acquiring financial aid. CCA members voiced their intent to support the House-Senate compromise that effectively removes the death penalty for colleges receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from financial aid. This new measure, as proposed by CCA, would apply to all postsecondary institutions.
“90-10 really punishes those students of the lower socioeconomic strata because they are the ones who need financial aid the most,” said Sue Ream, National Director of Career Services for ITT Technical Institute. “The average age of our students is 27. They are people who understand why they are going to school. They can’t rely on mom and dad. Parents are pretty much out of the picture by then.”
ENSURING INSTITUTIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY
A commission assembled by the Secretary of Education has proposed a new way to gauge the effectiveness of colleges. Similar to measures in the No Child Left Behind Act, the commission wants to develop an “Institutional Report Card” to grade academic performance. While CCA supports the report card concept, it opposes subjecting career colleges and traditional colleges and universities to different standards. CCA has encouraged Congress and the Department of Education to make the standards universal.
Whether CCA has won its battle won’t be apparent until the Higher Education Act is approved. Even that would be an impressive feat, as the last two Congresses failed to get it off the ground. Still, with the numbers of supporters lobbying for the sector, the organization gave a voice to the issues important to students, even if the powers that be are yet to prove they can be organized or effective for the sake of higher education.