The Campaign to Destroy Career Colleges

Harry Alford

By Harry C. Alford

NNPA Columnist

Once again, the federal government has been caught making up numbers, this time to support its efforts to put career colleges and proprietary universities out of business.

As background, the U.S. Department of Education is trying once again to impose a “gainful employment” rule on college students who attend private-sector colleges and universities.  These institutions serve a disproportionate number of African-American students, and provide these students with valuable career training and job skills.  They serve an important purpose for students who come from underserved communities and have not succeeded in traditional education environments.

But if the government has its way, it will deny options to these students and shut down an entire sector of higher education.  The “gainful employment” rule would apply arbitrary metrics only to these types of institutions. The government is proposing to deny financial aid to students who seek to attend programs that don’t meet these metrics, and the effect on both students and businesses would be disastrous.

These are not traditional education institutions.  Private sector or proprietary schools and career colleges teach on-the-job skills that are necessary for good, specific careers: dental hygienists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, computer programmers, chefs, beauticians, barbers and many more who learn their trades at these institutions and get the foundation for a path to the middle class.  Companies depend on these institutions to train qualified employees and provide a pipeline of skilled workers to grow their businesses.

For years, these institutions have served both African-American students and African-American businesses well.  Proprietary schools provide a pathway to career success and have allowed our African-American middle class to grow.  I know this personally.  My daughter graduated from high school and had trouble figuring out her next step.  Eventually, she landed in a private sector university and I was so proud when she got her Bachelor’s degree.  Being motivated and full of self-esteem, she went further. Next week, she marches onto the stage and will receive her Master’s degree.  Two private schools saved my daughter’s future and now the federal government wants to slam their doors shut to other striving youth.  It is an American tragedy.

That’s why it’s so disappointing to see the federal government aiming its sights at this sector of higher education and the students they serve.  And it’s even more disappointing, but not surprising, to see them twist the facts to make their case.  As they say, “figures don’t lie, but liars certainly will figure.”

At least they’re getting called out for it.  The Washington Post last week reported that the Department of Education went “too far” when it said that three quarters of the graduates of these institutions make less than a high school dropout.  Not only is this wrong – and the Washington Post dug into the numbers to show why – but what an awful lesson for the Department of Education to teach.

We drill it into our kids that they need to stay in school, study hard, and graduate. We encourage them to go to college and continue their education so they can find a good career. To have the U.S. Department of Education cook the numbers and then suggest that students are better off dropping out of high school than attending a proprietary college is beyond the pale.

It also shows the lengths to which the Department of Education will go to shut down these schools that have served our community so well.  TheWashington Post says that if you use the same math the Department uses on all private schools –  from Harvard Dental School to child care training programs – well more than half would fail.  And yet the Department is proposing to regulate only proprietary colleges and universities.

At risk, by the Department of Education’s own admission, are more than 1 million students who will be negatively impacted by the proposed gainful employment regulation.  What about their future?  Denying them a chance to improve the quality of their lives and better living for their future children hurts them and hurts our economy.  The chance of poverty increases exponentially.  That will spike poor healthcare, crime (as an alternative to suffering), domestic violence and hopelessness.  These ailments are far too familiar to our communities and crushing the hopes of more than 1 million students will take it to another much higher level.  We must stop them from this.

I just don’t know why this administration keeps fighting the principles of free enterprise.  It may be a first among modern nations. We now have a government that decides to fight the vehicles of education and increased opportunity for its citizens.  Let’s show the outrage!

Not every student needs to go to Harvard Dental School to get a great career.  But students do need to have the option to pursue the education that is right for them and the ability to access higher education that can provide them with career options.  It’s time to tell the Department of Education to stop the gainful employment rule before it’s too late.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®.  Website: www.nationalbcc.org.  Email:  halford@nationalbcc.org.

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