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Private-sector colleges fill a need


USA Today - July 30, 2012

By Steve Gunderson

Let's start at the beginning. There are good and bad schools in every sector of higher education. We should all be working together to create postsecondary education that provides real access, real education and real skills leading to real jobs. Today, 13 million are unemployed and 90 million are underemployed.

Projections suggest we need an additional 20 million workers with postsecondary education skills in this decade. Our only hope to meet this challenge is through the growth of private investments in postsecondary education because we've reached the peak of public dollars.

Rather than leading this charge, Sen. Tom Harkin and his staff continue their obsession with just one element of postsecondary education: private-sector colleges. He criticizes private-sector schools for allocating 17% of revenues to instruction — but he doesn't tell you theUniversity of Iowa allocates only 16.2%!

He criticizes our schools for serving a disproportionate number of veterans and low-income students. We should be celebrating the fact that we provide academics and schedules in ways that work for adults with real jobs, real families and all the challenges of life. Yes, loan defaults are too high! Let us limit the loans a student receives to the amount needed for education.

Rather than leading a bipartisan effort to pursue comprehensive reforms for all of higher education, the senator uses old statistics and mixes apples and oranges in his attempt to make a case for more laws and more regulations. America is at a crossroads in terms of our economy, our education system and the growth of the middle class.

Let's set aside ideology. Let's work together to develop one set of common standards for all students in all colleges. Let's develop protocols that accurately calculate the graduation rates and the placement rates of all students at every college. Let's work together to figure out how we can ensure access to higher education for all, especially the low-income, in an era of deficit reduction.

There is so much to do. And there's no time for yesterday's political ideology. It's a new era demanding new forms of innovation and delivery in higher education — for everyone.

Steve Gunderson is president and chief executive officer of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.