While Americans have been focusing on other things, the Obama administration has been quietly waging a war on for-profit colleges — a war that could end up destroying necessary opportunities for people like me.
Recently, the Department of Education, under pressure from not-for-profit community colleges and education policy institutions, has proposed a “gainful employment” rule that would place a heavy burden on students who decide to go to for-profit schools. These new rules would limit federal grant money to schools whose students have low post-graduation income, and could eliminate financial aid to as many as 360,000 students. Many of those students are single mothers like me — women who depend on the flexibility of for-profit institutions to pursue their dreams while still caring for their families.
When I graduated from high school, the prospect of a college education was daunting. As an 18-year-old single mother, the cold hallways of a university seemed impersonal and uncaring. I had no sense of purpose and knew that a massive institution couldn’t provide the kind of guidance I would need to find success. When, after years of working administrative jobs, I finally decided I was ready to pursue higher education, traditional four-year universities seemed unappealing. They were cold and rigid, and their staffs seemed unwelcoming to a woman whose schedule wasn’t totally open.
Northwestern College was different. For once, an admissions counselor asked me what I wanted to do, not what classes I needed to take. The financial aid office explained the federal loan process, but was careful to counsel me to take only as much as I needed and helped me weigh the pros and cons of using government assistance to pursue my education. I went on to get a bachelor’s in Computer Programming and Information Systems, was hired immediately out of school and went on to become known as the “start-up queen,” helping students and businesses across Chicago achieve success. I am now the Executive Director of Human Resources for a major corporation.
If it weren’t for the care and concern of Northwestern College’s admissions office, my life might have turned out very differently. Now, I counsel my clients to hire graduates of for-profit colleges, because I know that they received the kind of personal attention and training that will best benefit a company. I also encourage young women raising families on their own to pursue higher education at these colleges.
The Obama administration does not seem to understand how their actions will impact the lives of thousands of low- and middle-income students who need the flexibility and opportunity that these schools offer. Not to mention, graduates of for-profit schools have a 38% higher completion rate than their counterparts at community colleges and over the next several years will provide almost 1.6 million new employees to some of the fastest-growing industries in America. Driving these institutions out of business would deal a crushing blow to the aspirations of thousands of students who know this is their best option.
Maritza Vega, a 2001 graduate of Northwestern College, spent nine years moving up within big companies and now serves as the Human Resources Director for Epko Industries, Inc. After graduating from Northwestern College, she went on to complete her BA at the University of Phoenix and expects to finish her Masters by September 2011.