The reputation of career colleges

10 Aug

Recently, I did a Q&A on reddit about career colleges.  This was partly spurred by the social media conference I’ve recently attended, and partly by my membership on the social media/PR team.  I didn’t identify which college or corporation, nor will I do so.  The exercise was for research into what the perception of career colleges is, and how we might better our outreach.

Needless to say, there was some hostility on the thread.  Career colleges have have negative press in the past, either in news coverage, or television segments, even the documentary “College, Inc”, and there’s more information that’s out-of-date, or specific to particular corporate entities.

The main concerns were:

  1. Career colleges are student debt mills, that charge exorbitantly high tuition, and accept students that will not succeed in that school; some accepted students may even fail admissions exams and get in anyway, all in a bid to generate revenue.
  2. Students come out of their programs and go into careers that pay so little, they have almost no choice but to default on their loans.
  3. It is unfair that career college students get more Pell grants and federal loans, percentage-wise, than any other school population, and they do not deserve this aid because of the fact they are likely to default.

My answers to these concerns are long, but the simple version is that we are one of the most highly-regulated educational institutions around.  We have goals that normal universities simply can’t meet, like the requirement that 80% of our students must be placed in positions within their program field no later than 9 months after graduation.  If we don’t meet that goal, we lose our license to be a school.  We have program accreditation from national associations – a paralegal program might be accredited by the American Bar Association, for example.  Those accreditations speak to the quality of program we offer.

As to the concern about salaries, I contend that most people work with outdated information and a misunderstanding of career colleges.  Some, like the Art Institutes, have programs in low-pay fields.  Not all do.  Our programs tend toward the starting salary range of $30,000 per year.  That’s a better living than our students might otherwise have gotten.

Lastly, I would like to point out that we often take students considered too high-risk by traditional universities and colleges, and we give them the encouragement they need to succeed.  If nothing else, let the fact that our students come back and thank us for believing in them, and telling us how much we’ve changed their lives for the better, speak to our commitment to graduating our students and setting them up for success.

I ask all the librarians out there, career college or not, what do you think of these challenges?  Are there parallels in your library?  How did you overcome them?  Let’s have a discussion!

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