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California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools

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Career Schools Are the Right Path for Many Americans


Real Clear Policy - June 27, 2012 - by Steve Gunderson

Due to our tailored curriculum, flexible scheduling, and personalized instruction, career colleges and universities have become the choice of more and more Americans. As students – many of whom are non-traditional learners – seek post-secondary education, their goal is a simple one: to succeed in the 21st century workforce. And to do so they require training and education to gain skills and knowledge, which make them employable in specific industries of their choosing.

This is the path more of our fellow citizens are pursuing. And according to recent Georgetown University study authored by Tony Carnevale and subsequent news accounts, it is working. I read with great interest recently a blaring headline in USA Today titled, “Study: Vocational Certificates Can Payoff More Than A Bachelor’s.” The news report went on to say that “certificates awarded through short-term vocational training programs can reap a bigger payoff than a bachelor’s degree.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported, “Certificates are the fastest growing form of postsecondary credentials in the nation, surpassing associate and master’s degrees as the second most common award in higher education after the B.A., according to a report released on Wednesday by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Postsecondary certificates made up 22 percent of awarded credentials in 2010, compared with just 6 percent in 1980. Over that time, the number of certificates awarded annually has increased from 100,000 to one million.”

And that leads to an obvious question, who is issuing these certificates that apparently result in a greater “payoff” than a four-year degree? The answer is private sector colleges and universities. In fact, in 2009-2010, we conferred 47 percent of all certificates awarded to post-secondary students.

To put a finer point on the topic, career schools issued 62 percent of certificates conferred in communications and journalism fields of study, 51 percent of certificates conferred in communications technologies, 39 percent of certificates conferred in legal professions and studies, and 37 percent of certificates conferred in engineering technologies and related fields… just to name a few.

Obtaining post-secondary certificates also had a direct and positive impact on the bottom line of those who received them. For instance, in 2009, the mean monthly earnings for high schools graduates was $3,179, which compares to $3,538 for certificate holders and $4,314 for those with certificates in engineering occupations. In annual terms that’s just over $38,000 per year versus more than $42,000.

For American’s working families, nearly $400 a month in additional earnings is very real money and can make all the difference. That is why the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities and our members are so committed and proud to deliver educational services to our nation’s non-traditional students, many of whom are parents, adult learners and veterans.

We understand obtaining training and skills – some of which only our schools can effectively provide – means the difference between getting a job or remaining unemployed, or getting a promotion or remaining locked in a current position. All of these items affect the quality of life of millions of Americans and their families. In a down economic period, it affects the nation’s recovery and determines whether employers desperately seeking workers with skills are able to hire domestically or ship work overseas.

Our nation is at a crossroads when dealing with higher education, career colleges and universities have clearly put in place a blueprint for successful post-secondary education that expands opportunities and access to the American Dream, yet some have decided to completely ignore the evidence and launch misguided attacks against our entire sector in spite of the fact that most our schools are upstanding members of their communities, centers for learning and local employers.

Recent news demonstrating higher-education certificates result in greater opportunities and increased wages should give pause to those who have placed greater importance on political posturing than educational attainment. Private sector schools are dedicated to ensuring our students are positioned to succeed, and while we have more work to do, we are certainly moving in the right direction.