- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2010

President Obama on Tuesday announced a new public-private partnership to link community colleges with potential employers, but career-college advocates say by focusing on public institutions he’s ignoring private for-profits that have a better track record on job placement.

Those advocates said the fact that Mr. Obama signed to spend $2 billion in taxpayer money to boost public community colleges and at the same time impose new rules on for-profit private schools shows a hostility that’s counterproductive if the goal is to boost jobs and tailor education to students’ needs - especially for minority students.

“It seems like a witch hunt just against the career colleges,” said Jean Norris, managing partner of Norton Norris, a higher-education marketing firm that deals with both community colleges and for-profits. “Taking career colleges out of the mix is something that would be detrimental to certain student groups, to achieving the agenda that the president has set out to achieve, and when you look at the success of career colleges in serving these populations — first generation, minority — and serving their community.”

Mr. Obama, speaking at a White House summit hosted by Jill Biden, a community college professor and wife of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., touted the role of community colleges in meeting his goal of making America the top source of college graduates in the next decade by providing an affordable education. He unveiled a new program called Skills for America’s Future, which seeks to create a national network connecting community colleges with employers such as McDonald’s, Accenture and Gap Inc.

“These colleges are the unsung heroes of America’s education system,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday. “They may not get the credit they deserve. They may not get the same resources as other schools. But they provide a gateway to millions of Americans to good jobs and a better life. These are places where young people can continue their education without taking on a lot of debt.”



The career-college industry, which often includes schools with a heavy online presence such as the University of Phoenix and Strayer University, has come under harsh fire from the Obama administration and some Democratic lawmakers who say graduates emerge saddled with debt. At a Senate hearing on Thursday, Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the chamber’s education panel, issued a critical report that accused for-profits of viewing “students as no more than cogs in the profit-making machine, with little concern for their education or success.”

But while Mr. Harkin’s report took aim at 16 for-profit colleges for their withdrawal rates, statistics show that career colleges actually have higher graduation rates than community colleges — 58 percent compared with 30 percent, according to an analysis of 2009 Education Department figures by Charles River Associates.

Ms. Norris also pointed to a recent survey by her firm that asked students who have been enrolled at both types of colleges to rate them on a 14-point scale ranging from the quality of job-placement services to personal attention given to students. Career colleges scored higher in all of the areas except affordability

Unlike community colleges, for-profits pay taxes and rely on a much smaller chunk of government assistance. The study by Charles River Associates, which was commissioned by the for-profit college industry, said taxpayers pay at least $25,000 more for loans and other costs for each public two-year graduate than for each graduate of a for-profit school.

But for-profit schools say the government is putting them at a disadvantage versus public schools, both because they don’t have access to any of the $2 billion Democrats included for community colleges in the health care law and because of new rules Mr. Obama’s Education Department is pursuing that would limit federal aid to students who attend for-profit schools. The rules would target schools where a high number of students fail to pay off loans or where the loans are so overwhelming that students are unlikely to be able to pay them off with the jobs they’ll be eligible to get after graduation.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has pushed back the time for issuing the rule, but it’s on track to be implemented next year. That’s despite protests not only by the for-profit industry but also the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which have written to Mr. Duncan warning that the rule would harm minority students who rely on federal loans to fund vocational and other degrees.

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