Private sector schools could boost employment

Arthur Keiser Contributor
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The latest jobless numbers were anything but good. The unemployment rate last month was 9.2 percent, just slightly lower than the rate when the recession ended in June 2009. These dismal jobs figures come, ironically, at a time when the Obama administration has chosen to punish private sector colleges and universities — schools that could help spur job growth.

Private sector colleges and universities (PSCUs) offer students valuable advancement opportunities, at minimal cost to taxpayers. And we’re not talking about small numbers here. PSCUs educate 3.8 million students, many of whom are non-traditional students, including working adults, returning veterans and single parents. Our schools — with flexible schedules and online classes — give these Americans the rare opportunity to create meaningful, sustaining careers, rather than bounce from one low-paying job to another with no hope of earning a living wage. In fact, our students are often those who have lost their jobs and need new skills and training to establish sustainable careers.

A postsecondary education is a prerequisite for employment today. Yet, the federal government continues to single out the private sector schools that provide this with unfair regulations. For example, the U.S. Department of Education’s “gainful employment” regulation requires that private sector schools face stricter standards for student loan repayment or risk losing federal student aid. In addition, instead of devoting days to discussing job creation on Capitol Hill, lawmakers at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing in June, led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), wasted time attacking private sector institutions while lacking any real-world understanding of the situations that non-traditional students face today.

For example, Senator Harkin and other critics have questioned why the student loan default rates for students at private sector schools are higher than those for non-profit or public college students. But this way of thinking discounts simple economics. Default rates are tied to demographics. Since PSCUs educate a high percentage of lower-income students who have fewer resources than their peers, these students are more likely to default on their loans. When you compare similarly situated cohorts, our students’ default rates are almost identical to those at community colleges and traditional four-year colleges.

It is troubling that the increased regulation is hindering the ability of our country to remain competitive. As a result of unwarranted regulation, students will have less access to programs and will not gain the critical skills needed to compete in today’s global workforce. Considering the stagnant economy and weak labor market, can we afford these regulations?

PSCUs train students for in-demand jobs, at a time when Americans need those jobs most. Students consistently praise our schools for providing strong individual instruction, restoring their confidence in their skills and making the connection between classroom learning and employable skills they readily see upon graduation.

The outcomes-based approach at PSCUs works. The graduation rate for our two-year institutions is over 60 percent, which is much higher than the graduation rate for community colleges. In addition, at our nationally accredited schools, more than 70% of graduates find work in their chosen fields. In-demand programs like health care at community colleges have long waiting lists, and most nonprofit and public colleges don’t offer the flexible schedule and career focus that our member schools do. Last year, PSCUs made approximately 10 percent of all nursing awards and 58 percent of allied health awards.

Are we really so biased in favor of traditional schools that we are confident that the next great inventor, global entrepreneur or Fortune 500 CEO is not attending a PSCU right now? I’m not willing to make that assumption. It is time we support all our students as they strive to support themselves and their families, no matter the sector in which they receive their education. Don’t we owe it to our country to give these students the chances they deserve?

Arthur Keiser is the chairman of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.