Op-Ed

Career, propriety colleges fill gaps

At issue | Dec. 21 Herald-Leader editorial, "Much-needed investigation; for-profit colleges deserve scrutiny"

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. A little knowledge based on a flawed and biased report is disastrous.

Yet that didn't prevent the state's two largest newspapers from offering editorial comment about Kentucky's career colleges and proprietary schools based on: what appears to be a politically motivated news conference by the attorney general; a pre-filed bill that would delve into board governance; and — the genesis of it all — a flawed report from the U. S. Government Accounting Office.

So let us offer this response as a service to your readers who may have misperceptions about career colleges and proprietary schools. It's not an attempt to throw down the gauntlet, but to lift up the facts:

■ More than 32,000 students attend private career-focused colleges and universities in Kentucky, Of that number, 19,000 represent the number attending colleges licensed by the State Board for Proprietary Education. The remaining 13,000 students attend colleges, universities and schools licensed by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE).

This is the same state agency that oversees our public and non-profit institutions such as the University of Louisville which employs state Rep. Reginald Meeks, who is proposing the new legislation. These students are learning valuable skills to make them productive members of a more competitive Kentucky work force.

■ Questions have been raised about certain aspects of these tax-paying institutions, many with decades of service to Kentucky students. Unfortunately, a small number of former students have raised complaints, which has led to proposed legislation and the attorney general's investigation. The State Board of Proprietary Education received just four student complaints in 2010 from the nearly 19,000 students attending the colleges and schools they license.

■ The focal point of consumer-protection groups, attorneys general and network television center around issues raised by the GAO, which did not include a single Kentucky-based college or university in its investigation.

Recently, six United States senators from both sides of the aisle have asked for an internal review of that agency and an explanation of blatant bias in its report based on selective editing. The GAO has been forced to revise significant portions of the "mystery shopper" study conducted at several colleges across the country.

■ The Courier-Journal of Louisville correctly point out that private-sector colleges educate about 10 percent of students, but that their students receive about 23 percent of federal student aid. While that may seem unbalanced at first, these colleges educate 25 percent of all students eligible for needs-based federal grants. The proportion of minorities attending private sector colleges and universities in Kentucky is twice that of minorities at all other institutions in the state.

■ If the language of Meeks' bill is approved as is, the CPE by its own admission might be required to hire additional employees to handle the oversight. Can Kentucky, in these recessionary times, afford the additional expense?

■ The proprietary board was created by the legislature in 1976 and the statute, including membership composition, was based on model legislation of the Education Commission of the States. The board's performance over the last 34 years has proven this is the best way to regulate schools.

Certainly the legislature can revisit the statute determining who sits on the board. In doing so, it might also consider that practitioners participating on the state boards that regulate them are commonplace. The one distinct difference: The proprietary board has five members from the general public, while the state boards of accounting, pharmacy, real estate and others have but one.

Rushing legislation through in this short session of the General Assembly before it is determined what problems, if any, exist does a disservice to taxpayers.

■ Career colleges and proprietary schools fill a gap in post-secondary training, whether the field is medical, technical, mechanical or organizational.

Rather than belabor the complaints of four students, let's talk more about the thousands of lives that have been, and will continue to be, changed for the better. That's what our organization and its members are all about.

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