Like many states, Kentucky has faced its fair share of challenges during this difficult economic period. In fact, the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report states that Kentucky's unemployment rate is still well above the national average. Everyday Kentuckians are still having a hard time finding stable, meaningful jobs.
Yet, recent graduates with a four-year college degree were protected from many of the negative effects of the recession, such as unemployment, low-skill jobs and lesser wages, according to a report recently released by the Pew Charitable Trust. The same report notes that students with only a high school degree experienced a "considerably more severe" decline in employment and wages.
These findings demonstrate why for-profit colleges and universities are critical to the success of Kentucky's economy. Such schools provide Kentuckians who are unable to attend traditional universities, with an opportunity for a quality education that leads to a career. Only 32 percent of Kentuckians age 25-34 have a degree, meaning that there are hundreds of thousands who could benefit from a career-oriented institution.
Career schools and colleges offer flexible class schedules and focused curriculum. Thanks to these career-oriented schools, students with families can work and earn a degree on their own schedule, while maintaining a steady source of income through work and attending to their personal responsibilities. This might not seem that important, but for non-traditional students who have to juggle work and school this flexibility can make all the difference in securing a college degree.
In addition to offering flexible curriculum, private-sector colleges and universities prepare their students for life after college. Traditional universities require students to take a broad spectrum of classes, often unrelated to their career focus. Career-oriented schools differ, focusing their academic curriculum on classes that are relevant to employment, saving time and money in the process.
For-profit colleges prepare students to be immediately ready to enter the work force in their chosen career path as soon as they graduate. This translates to private-sector college students holding a distinct competitive advantage in the labor market, especially considering many employers in the commonwealth are looking for specialized workers and having difficulty finding them.
Given the recent Pew report's findings and the uncertain economic outlook, a college degree is more imperative than ever to attaining financial security. Career-oriented schools are, therefore, providing an important service to the state. The education that Kentucky's private-sector colleges and universities provide to roughly 32,000 students each year has helped supply Kentucky's labor force with high-skilled workers.
As the Pew report suggests, higher education institutions are essential to inoculating Kentuckians and the commonwealth from the side effects of economic downturns. Career colleges are proud to be doing their part in helping graduates achieve their version of the American Dream by thoroughly preparing and educating America's future business leaders and thinkers.
Candace Bensel is the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Career Colleges and Schools.