It is unfortunate that the April 11 story "For-profit colleges teach lesson in cost vs. value," did not utilize more centrist experts on higher education. It is only divisive and counterproductive to quote Barmak Nassirian, the career college sector's most extreme and unreasonable critic. The article exaggerated lobbying activity, misrepresented cohort default rates, ignored critical outcomes, and implied that career college students are not getting the value for their investment.
The implication that career colleges are unduly influencing legislation is unfair, as the halls of Congress are filled with publicly funded lobbyists from traditional higher education. It is necessary to participate in our country's political process to advocate on behalf of our students.
More than 2.8 million students nationwide choose to attend accredited career colleges and universities. The majority are adult learners with jobs and families who need the flexible schedules and small classes offered by private schools. Fifty-five percent of career college students are the first in their families to go to college. This does not make them naive or foolish. These students deserve federal loans and grants as much as any other group of students. They also deserve the respect and right to spend them on the school of their choice.
The profits enjoyed by career schools only reflect their success at being relevant to their students. For-profit schools, by the way, are federally mandated to be fiscally solvent and to maintain a minimum profit level. Career schools — which receive no state or federal subsidies — are succeeding in the marketplace by providing a quality education with a career focus, resulting in most graduates gaining employment in their chosen field of study. Keiser University, as an example, spends more per full time equivalent student than a nearby community college and, being regionally accredited, meets the same faculty requirements as state universities.
The article makes no mention of the positive outcomes of these graduates. Keiser University's audited graduation rate for 2009 is 72 percent, well above community colleges and many state universities. At Keiser University, 34 percent describe themselves as career changers. While many students hold jobs while studying at Keiser University, 86 percent attain careers in their field of study after graduation. Fifty-four percent of Florida's allied health and medical services graduates, the backbone of our state's economy as of late, are from career colleges. How could this happen if many schools produce "worthless credentials," as asserted in the article?
While Keiser University and the career college sector oppose the "gainful employment" proposal by the U.S. Education Department, that does not mean there is a lack of concern about rising student loan debt. However, tying student loan amounts to starting salaries upon graduation would severely limit the opportunity of many to follow their career dreams in fields such as nursing, teaching and law enforcement. This is another proposal that unfairly targets students attending career colleges and not the thousands of students attending traditional colleges and universities who will graduate with a taxpayer funded degree in psychology, political science or art history.
A recent Education Department study speculated and "projected" default rates to increase dramatically. But that is assuming the general economy remains weak — a major cause of student loan defaults — and assumes no mitigation steps will be taken. Keiser and other schools have long advocated capping living expenses and other expenditures students are allowed to make with their student loans in addition to actual tuition costs. There is also debt counseling upon enrollment and many other steps proposed or being taken to help students. Keiser University's 2008 student loan default rate is closer to one out of 10 and not one out of four graduates as inaccurately stated in the April 11 article.
Our country is facing a tremendous challenge to develop a highly trained work force that can compete successfully in the global marketplace. Instead of focusing on the negative, the news media would better serve the public by providing a forum for creative ideas and cooperation among all sectors of higher education.
Arthur Keiser is chancellor of Keiser University, a for-profit school with 21 Florida campuses.