Ky. Voices: Measuring post-college jobs not exact science

Frank Longaker, a Louisville native, is president of National College.
Frank Longaker, a Louisville native, is president of National College.

I applaud Attorney General Jack Conway. That might seem strange coming from the president of National College, but I'll happily give credit where credit is due.

Several months ago, Conway managed to get a representative from his office, Assistant Attorney General Della Justice, appointed to a panel studying new regulations to be considered by the U.S. Department of Education regarding "gainful employment." Gainful employment is a term applied by the DOE to rules related to whether training programs offered by career colleges and community colleges succeed at training students for the jobs for which the programs are designed.

Among the many issues regarding what characterizes a successful career education program, the committee has discussed the definition of placement as it applies to such graduates.

When the committee began to study various aspects of the potential gainful employment regulations, the AG's representative, Justice, volunteered to head the subcommittee looking at a common definition of placement.

It is gratifying that Justice recognizes this issue, reportedly pushing strongly for a standard placement rate while noting that it's very difficult because no one calculates them the same way. "Very difficult" is an apt description, and I wish her luck.

In my 40-plus years as an instructor and administrator at a career college, National College, I have seen more than a few problems that I hope this committee could solve.

Whose rate calculation will it go with: that of an accreditor? The institution? The state? A local work force board? Across the country, various calculated rates are used by all of these different organizations. Most regional accreditors don't even require a calculation. Perhaps the work group will come up with a fifth calculation, or sixth by the time the government regulators get done.

And is placement even the right term? I have had students at National say to me, "I got my own job. You did not place me." Exactly. We can't "place" anyone, something I have told students at orientation. They are the ones who prepare their résumés, present themselves for the job and extol their own skills and attributes. We help, to the extent we can. But they get the job on their merits.

And why limit the proposed regulations to career colleges and community colleges? Isn't a graduate of the University of Kentucky law school or a graduate of Midway College with an English degree expected to be "placed"?

It is hard to believe that those students really didn't go to college to get a better job.

Thank you, Conway for recommending one of your staff to work on this DOE committee. I mean it.