By choosing the not so clever nom de plume Gaius Publius, the author indicates he/she is either from ancient Rome or the time of our nation’s founding. In either case, when it comes to providing a higher education for all of the people who need one, times have changed dramatically. Since 1998, private sector colleges and universities have seen their enrollments increase substantially. Small wonder. Since 1998, more than three million manufacturing jobs have been lost to overseas competition, and shift from a manufacturing to a service economy has accelerated. Americans need new skills that they can use to obtain and remain in middle class jobs-- jobs that will stay in the United States. Harvard and Reed and the University of Washington are not going to educate these workers in transit to become medical assistants or broadband network installation specialists. Community colleges might as one of their multiple missions, but they are severely budget constrained and plagued with the kinds of pedagogical problems that turned many young people away in the first place.
With new populations of students entering or returning to college after years in the workforce, transformative, scalable models are needed to deliver these credentials. And why are these competitive models so important. Because most of these students our country needs to add to the higher education system are older adults, with families, jobs, fewer financial resources, and less time to spend obtaining their sheepskins. That does not make them less savvy education consumers. “Many, perhaps most, for profit-colleges” existing to “vacuum as much money as they can” while delivering the least education possible would hardly be a successful business model. Nor would such a model produce 16 percent of our nation’s higher education graduates, though representing only 12% of higher education. Nor would such a process pass the oversight of federal and state agencies and accrediting bodies in place to assure that such is not the case.
Beyond issuing strictly subjective and unsubstantiated opinions, Gaius stumbles in attempting to relay several points of fact or to provide appropriate context for a real understanding:
- On graduation rates, the correct graduation rate for four-year private sector colleges and universities is 35 percent of students, not the 22 percent cited, even though the 35 percent is also probably lower than the reality. The difference springs from the fact that unlike traditional colleges and universities, students attend PSCU institutions for a mix of degree and certificate level programs, not just baccalaureate degrees. Why 35 percent and not 70 or 80 percent? First, traditional colleges and universities fall short of these high graduation rates, with many state colleges and universities also in the mid-30 percent range. In addition, PSCU students are far more likely to be students at-risk for graduation. With fewer resources to fall back on, they are more likely to be knocked off course by events like a sick child or lost job. The difference (and inherent bias) is also underscored by the “first-time, full-time” nature of government statistics. Many PSCU students are returning to postsecondary education after an unsuccessful start at a community college or elsewhere and are not included in the government data. Meanwhile, “apples and apples” research comparisons of at-risk students, regardless of the institution type they attend, show PSCUs do as well or better than traditional schools at helping these individuals successfully graduate.
- On median debt for graduates of four-year programs, PSCU students borrow more because they are less affluent than their traditional sector counterparts. Also, their educations are not heavily subsidized by taxpayers, as are those who attend state colleges and universities. PSCU students are approximately four times as likely to be first generation and low income college attendees as are those at either four-year public or non-profit private institutions.
- On revenue and its source, while Gaius is happy to point out that a majority of PSCU revenues originate with federal loans and grants, the writer fails to point out that traditional colleges and universities are likewise heavily reliant on taxpayer money to deliver education. Traditional colleges and universities not only generate revenue through federal loans and grants, but also though subsidies like research grants, appropriations, tax credits, and the fact that they pay no federal, state or local taxes on their surpluses/profits. PSCUs on the other hand pay taxes and, with very few exceptions, institutions get no direct assistance from the federal, state, or local government. After federal loans are repaid, the true picture of federal revenue that emerges is quite different. Community colleges, for instance, hang on to 69 cents of every federal dollar they collect while two-year PSCUs retain just 33 cents. While the writer claims “many” PSCUs receive 90 percent of their revenue from federal grants and loans, only about 14 percent have federal revenue of 85 percent or above. The vast majority of PSCUs see 80 percent or less of their revenue coming from federal sources.
Real life may come as a shock to Gaius Publius, but not to the 3.2 million people who pursue their postsecondary educations at private sector colleges and universities. A small number of these individuals, not actors, recently appeared in advertisements to underscore the importance of choice in higher education.
Wrong again guy.