Op-Ed

Career-college grads contribute greatly to state’s economy

TNS

Career colleges and universities play a major role in educating Florida residents, and the results speak for themselves. In the past five years, more than 500,000 graduates have completed degree and certificate programs for jobs critical to Florida’s economy.

The person who takes your temperature at the doctor’s office, the person at your computer help desk, the person who cuts your hair and the person who prepared your meal most likely graduated in Florida from a career school.

Graduation rates for students in two-year programs at career colleges — the majority of our students — are three times the rates of comparable public two-year institutions, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Our students who earn their bachelor’s degree earn substantially higher incomes than state university graduates as documented by the National Center for Education Statistics last December.

Florida’s private, taxpaying, postsecondary institutions educate more than 60 percent of Florida’s information-technology and healthcare graduates, more than 80 percent of the state’s culinary and commercial truck driver graduates and more than 90 percent of its cosmetology graduates.

The Miami Herald found such a track record unworthy of reporting, but focused instead on 158 student complaints over an 18-month period in three South Florida counties that served over 108,000 students.

Statewide, fewer than one of every thousand student have complained to regulators about any issues regarding their experiences.

The stories in the Herald series Higher Ed Hustle failed to point out that 80 percent of schools have zero complaints filed with regulators.

Every student deserves a high quality education. Valid issues that students face should be resolved. Multiple safeguards exist to assure that this is the case, including those provided by the institution, the independent accrediting body and the state.

Regarding the complaints in question, all were reviewed by the state regulator, the Commission for Independent Education (CIE). The CIE invited the Herald reporter to show one instance in which the law or state regulation was not enforced in any complaint closed by the CIE. The reporter failed to respond. Instead, he chose to retry complaint cases without balancing the story.

The reporter also failed to recognize that, in 2009, the state was facing a looming workforce crisis, forcing the state’s healthcare facilities to actively recruit nurses from other states and foreign countries. After the Florida Center for Nursing projected increasingly large deficits in Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs), the Florida Legislature allowed career colleges to increase their offerings in nursing. There were few dollars in the state budget available to address the need.

Without taxpayer expense, private college students have become a key part of the solution to the critical shortage in nurses. Since 2009, virtually all the growth in nursing in Florida has come from private colleges. Private career colleges and schools produced 10,000 more nurses from 2009 to 2014 than they did in 2008. The state universities and community colleges increased the number of nurses they were producing by fewer than 1,500 over the six-year period.

More than 20,000 educators and college staff work in Florida’s private schools and universities to ensure the success of the students we serve.

Most of our students are not right out of high school, but have jobs and families. Many of them are the first in their families to pursue an education beyond high school.

Our students are adults with adult responsibilities and an adult’s perspective on making the right postsecondary choices. They choose our schools for year-round enrollment, flexible course scheduling, convenient campus locations and online offerings.

We want every student to have the opportunity to work hard and succeed. Their education opens doors that would otherwise be shut.

The Miami Herald used a lot of ink to highlight exceptions to the rule, failing to recognize accomplishments of thousands of productive, working Floridians and their contributions to our state.

Curtis Austin is the executive director of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges (FAPSC) in Tallahassee, Florida.

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