Friday, May 16, 2014

An Open Letter to Legislators RE: Gainful Employment Proposal

I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about how proprietary schools have changed my life for the better, and why I believe that the “Gainful Employment” requirement is, to use familiar words “arbitrary and capricious”.

First, I met my husband at the proprietary school where he was returning to school after having to leave to take care of his family; I was attending a Graduate Program while working full time. While the results of that serendipity are significant to my own path, it is the circumstances that led to it that I wish to highlight. Both of us were approaching 30, and had very limited options when it came to advancing our studies given our situations. Because of the programs and flexibility offered, as well as the financial aid and assistance available, we have been able to advance our careers and financial goals in ways that would not otherwise have been possible.

Second, I have worked in proprietary education since late 2008. Having worked for two different entities (Alta Colleges and EDMC), I can tell you first-hand about the culture of these types of schools. When I began working at Westwood College in 2008, I was immediately imbued with pride in the work we were doing. Our students were lower-income, from struggling public high schools, largely Latino and other minorities, and here they were able to achieve and afford higher education. Every person on campus, from Admissions to Career Services was dedicated to serving and elevating our students, creating life-long learners and giving them not just a degree, but the knowledge, skills and credentials to succeed and thrive in the workforce.

The culture is no different at Western State College of Law. I have only been with EDMC for a few months, but what immediately struck me is the incredible amount of love and pride with which each member of the Staff and Faculty approaches their work. These are dedicated educators who approach the growth of their students with passion and verve, and I find it difficult to avoid feeling daunted to find myself among them.

It has been disheartening over the last few years. I have seen many in Congress target these schools that have given me so much, personally and professionally. I hear them accused of manipulating and abusing their students, taking advantage of their hope and poverty and tricking them into borrowing for degrees they’ll never be able to pay off. However, the problem of unemployment and the shrinking market of skilled entry-level jobs is universal. An undergraduate degree from Harvard may open more doors than one from ITT, but if there are no doors to knock on it doesn’t much matter.

Targeting proprietary schools may seem like a simple solution to the problem of rising student debt, but that growing deficit is a symptom of the much larger issues facing our young adults entering the workforce. I urge you to consider that proprietary schools serve those in this country who need higher education the most. Many graduates from Western State are first generation US Citizens, often the first in their families to finish undergraduate studies, let alone to achieve a higher degree. Accountability and outcomes assessment are important to all sectors of Higher Education; however a better rule would apply to all institutions with fair metrics that assess value over time. 

Thank you,

Self-Rescuing Princess