The White House recently introduced a new public-private partnership to achieve the president’s goal of making America the top producer of college graduates in the next decade. This announcement comes none too soon. By the end of the decade, nearly eight in 10 new jobs will require some form of postsecondary education, and we, as a nation, are not going to reach this goal unless different sectors come together to tackle the challenge.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s Skills for America’s Future initiative focuses only on community colleges as the solution. It overlooks the contributions of career colleges, which have educated millions of students over the past two decades. There are literally millions of career-college-student success stories, of nurses, health-care technicians, computer programmers, graphic artists, chefs, and others who have bettered their lives and the lives of their families. Career colleges educate and place students in 17 of the 20 fastest-growing fields, and career-college graduates represent 42 percent of all medical workers.
More importantly for President Obama’s initiative, career colleges are getting the job done in a number of areas where community colleges are not making the grade. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Education, career colleges graduate 58 percent of their students, while community colleges graduate 20 percent. When you look at minority students, career colleges graduate 48 percent of their African-American students and 60 percent of their Hispanic students, compared with 20 percent and 15 percent, respectively, for community colleges.
If the goal is to open the doors of opportunity for working, underserved, and other nontraditional students, then career colleges must be part of the equation.
Career colleges have pioneered online courses and flexible schedules, offering courses 24/7, to serve working adult students. The model of teaching life skills and offering greater one-on-one support for students is one that works, particularly for at-risk students, such as first-generation college students or working mothers. Career colleges have a strong track record when it comes to placing students in jobs.
That’s why career colleges have earned their seat at the table.
The administration proposes to increase funding for community colleges, but disregards deep, systemic flaws within this sector. A new, multipart study by my consulting firm, Norton|Norris Inc., or Nn, finds unsavory recruitment practices among community college admissions staffs and poorer-than-expected academic quality, class scheduling, and job placement as reported by students. In addition, we conducted an investigation that highlights the less touted, but aggressive, marketing efforts of community colleges, largely funded by taxpayer dollars, while comparable advertising programs at career colleges have come under fire from policymakers. These issues at community colleges cannot be swept under the rug.
Ultimately, both career colleges and community colleges have a role to play in educating the new American workforce. To ignore career colleges and tout only community colleges is a disservice to students.
A version of this article appeared in the October 27, 2010 edition of Education Week as Career Colleges Need a Seat at the Table