Thursday, April 12, 2012
By R. David Rankin
President Obama has made access to higher education in America one of the key priorities of his administration, championing his new community colleges initiative just this month. Unfortunately, his administration is sending mixed message about its commitment to the education of America’s workforce.
If the President truly wants to make a difference for Ohioans, he needs to bring another part of the education system into the dialogue, private sector colleges and universities. Like community colleges, private sector schools tailor their education curriculum to the needs of a 21st Century student worker, teaching vital real-world skills that will directly contribute to their career goals and employment. For millions of non-traditional students many of whom are veterans, parents or experienced workers, private sector schools offer a viable and focused path toward obtaining training that will allow them to secure employment in industries that are growing and hiring.
President Obama has spoken to a great degree about reviving the strong manufacturing base that has been the bedrock of Ohio’s economy for generations, and the thousands of jobs that come with it. Career-oriented institutions help fuel that recovery by teaching students key skills like machinery operation and repair, among others which ensure Ohioans are ready for those jobs.
We know in reading news accounts that employers are out there looking for workers with the experience and know-how to operate in specific jobs. Unable to identify people with the necessary skills, some businesses are going without those employees by offering their workers overtime, but they are able to hire if there is a skilled workforce is available to them. We’ve already seen a similar phenomenon in the nursing industry where more than 40,000 nurses across the U.S. have been educated in private sector schools, helping supply trained professionals to an industry seeing increasing demand and limited supply.
In fact, Ohio students account for one-third of all graduates majoring in health care and computer science, two occupations that have been projected to be among the state’s fastest-growing jobs through 2016, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. And last month, Governor John Kasich’s chief workforce development officer called together educators and representatives of the oil and gas, as well as high-precision manufacturing industries to work together on training programs that meet the needs of Buckeye State burgeoning enterprises. It is recognized both nationally and locally that state employers need qualified workers if we are to grow ourselves out of this stagnant economy. That’s why it’s so significant that 77 percent of our graduates have jobs in their field of study within 90 days of graduation.
Furthermore, private institutions operate and compete within the free market, which makes them quick to adjust their curriculum for excellence and efficiency. Further, private sector colleges and universities have the ability to tailor unique programs for aspiring students, offer classes online, and allow for great flexibility in scheduling for those studying with full-time jobs or family commitments. Therefore, career-oriented schools are often an attractive option for students who do not have lifestyles that can be accommodated by a traditional institution of higher learning that better suits younger Americans with fewer personal responsibilities.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has made it harder for Ohioans to access private sector schools. New burdensome regulations, such as the new “gainful employment” rule that establishes a one-size-fits-all standard for determining which schools can be eligible for federal student aid, are locking thousands of aspiring Ohioans out of the process of obtaining a higher education.
Bureaucratic obstacles like these don’t take into account the differing demographic make-up of private sector colleges and universities, and often make it harder for students to obtain the education they desire in order to find good paying jobs quickly after graduation.
Obama’s support for community colleges and expanded access to higher education will pay dividends for Ohioans and all Americans. But in order to deliver the most effective policy possible, private sector schools cannot be overlooked. They have had – and will always have – a significant role to play in educating the next generation of the American workforce.
R. David Rankin is the executive director of the Ohio Association of Career Colleges & Schools.
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