Thursday, January 6, 2011
In a media era of lazy generalizations and sensationalist editorials, the usually somewhat balanced Huffington Post’s grab for simple narratives to attack private sector colleges and universities (PSCUs) represents a disappointing low. In a recent post, the site asks readers who believe they have been wronged at PSCUs to share their stories. The premise of the request is deeply flawed.
Rather than trying to portray the fastest growing sector of higher education fairly, HuffPost instead has chosen to key in on occasional shortcomings of successful higher education institutions for a cheap pageview grab.
Asking such a biased question usually yields a predictable outcome—a confirmation of the initial bias. If the Huffington Post is interested in trying to inventory negative postsecondary experiences, then why not ask about disappointing experiences at all types of higher education institutions? Many traditional schools have graduation rates that are much lower than those at PSCUs. Many students complete traditional schools with mounds of loan debt that they find difficult to repay, even though they attended a heavily taxpayer subsidized institution (both direct subsidies and tax free status). Many students are finding their broadly based liberal arts degrees, while adding to their overall life satisfaction, are proving of questionable value in the labor market. Why not ask graduates of state universities, community colleges, and private not-for-profit institutions to detail their negative experiences?
What’s truly noteworthy about the Huffington Post’s ploy is that it backfired. In the comments published asking for negative student experiences, both students and graduates who have had positive experiences at PSCUs made their voices heard. PSCU students who responded to the question expressed a side of career higher education that the Huffington Post seems unwilling to acknowledge. That is the truest indictment of the site’s biased pursuit: despite trying to precook the answer, the experiences of those who have used PSCUs to change their lives and succeed still managed to break through the wall. What cheap shot critics of our schools have not yet fully grasped is that when bashing our institutions, they are really bashing the students and graduates who work so hard to earn their advanced education. Unlike many traditional students whose biggest challenge is whether to vacation in Europe or Asia, the non-traditional students who represent such a large portion of our enrollees have multiple every day challenges to face—more than three-fourths are independent, without the benefit of financial support from parents, nearly one-third work full time, almost half have dependent children. They are balancing life and educational challenges that few traditional students face, and yet are amazingly successful.
I wish every student had an optimal experience at PSCUs. Some do not, just as many do not at traditional schools. But anecdotes do not prove the rule.
Because the Huffington Post seems so deeply uninterested in providing balance—yet got some, in spite of itself--we can help round out the perspective. Our website LetsPutStudentsFirst.org and Graduate Spotlight shows a wide array of PSCU students with positive experiences and graduates with successful outcomes. Visitors will find real life stories of nurses, veterans, single-mothers, adult learners and multiple others who have succeeded at PSCUs.
The truth is PSCUs 1) contribute to America’s economic competitiveness by preparing students with skills for the 21st century workforce, 2) provide a viable alternative to traditional higher education to over 3.2 million students, and 3) are offering positive models for change to traditional higher education. PSCUs have been successful in educating an increasingly larger share of students, moving from low single digits only a decade ago to 12% of higher education because of their flexible scheduling, market-driven curriculum and ability to add capacity to match job demand. As proof of this development, more traditional schools are taking measures to incorporate these innovations into their education offerings.
So the next time Huffington Post asks a question related to PSCUs, how about this one? “Why are so many students choosing to attend and succeeding at PSCUs, even with the challenges these individuals must overcome?”
Posted by APSCU User at 6:50 PM