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Iowa View: Nontraditional students need opportunities, too.


The Des Moines Register | ~ August 8, 2012 – Kate Runge

There is something to be said for the timing of the editorial “For-Profit Colleges Need More Scrutiny,” published in The Des Moines Register on Saturday, which was accompanied by an essay from Sen. Tom Harkin, “Senate Investigation Puts These Schools in the Spotlight.”

I wasn’t able to pick up the Register that morning. I was attending Kaplan University’s summer commencement ceremony where more than 1,000 of the university’s online students received their hard-earned degrees and certificates in person. I read the editorial and the essay Saturday afternoon.

I think it would have been wonderful for the Register and Senator Harkin to attend as well. They would have met these graduates in person and gained a better understanding of how hard they have worked to earn their credentials. Many have what the Department of Education describes as “graduation risk factors.” They are adult learners who were employed full time and raising families while continuing their education with Kaplan.

Here in Iowa, nearly 2,500 students today are making ends meet with the help of state grants while pursuing their dreams through education at our campuses in Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Mason City and our main campus in Davenport.

They’re also getting jobs. More than 9 in 10 Kaplan University campus graduates in Iowa have landed a job. The Des Moines campus has a 94 percent employment rate.

I have many issues with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee staff majority report that Senator Harkin released last week. But he was right when he said, “Our nation’s existing network of public and not-for-profit and community colleges cannot meet the demand for higher education.”

I also commend him for recognizing Kaplan’s leadership in helping students make smart decisions about education and student debt through the Kaplan Commitment.

This program enables any student to enroll for up to five weeks without incurring any tuition costs to determine if the university is a good fit. According to the report, the Kaplan Commitment “underscores the fundamental commitment of Kaplan’s parent company, the Washington Post Co., to increasing student success rates and has come at a financial cost to Kaplan and the Post company.”

I am not aware of any college or university, private or public, for-profit or nonprofit, in Iowa or elsewhere, that provides that kind of support. If we’re looking for solutions, this is a fine example to follow.

The Register editorial hit the nail on the head when it opined, “The cost and quality of higher education affects millions of families, taxpayers and this country’s future workforce.”

But the Register’s suggestion that Iowa follow California’s lead by imposing a moratorium on Iowa state tuition grants for students attending for-profit colleges misses the mark. Facing unparalleled budget deficits, California has increased class sizes, raised tuition, cut courses, laid off academic advisers while considering even more draconian cuts such as eliminating entire schools. I don’t think that’s an example Iowa wants to follow.

Last year, more than 2,200 Iowans attending Kaplan University received up to $1,850 per student through the $2.5 million Iowa tuition grants program, which was 100 percent matched by Kaplan, exceeding the state requirement.

That means each eligible Kaplan University student received up to $3,700 to use toward their education. As demonstrated by past grant recipient graduates, these folks remain in Iowa, find employment and help build our communities.

If we are interested in student outcomes by investing in our collective future, shortsighted decisions that close off educational opportunities that can and do lead to better employment prospects for Iowa’s nontraditional students are not the answer, especially in these tough economic times.