“Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too.”
So goes the infamous counsel of the comically inept Judge Smails to an aspiring college hopeful in the movie “Caddyshack.” But today, what the world needs are skilled workers — and lots of them.
This is especially true here at home, where the U.S. economy currently faces a significant shortage of skilled workers across important industries such as health care, IT, electronics, manufacturing, and construction, to name just a handful. These are the good-paying jobs that typically provide not only high levels of job security but the opportunity for career advancement.
But in a startling display of pure politics, a small cadre of ideologically driven Democratic senators and House members are waging a campaign against the very institutions committed to building a skilled workforce and filling these job openings. What’s worse is that this political agenda especially threatens job and career opportunities for tens of thousands of military veterans.
The lawmakers in question — led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) along with Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), and others — have an unfortunate track record of hostility toward career-oriented private colleges.
These are the for-profit and nonprofit private institutions that offer current and relevant career-focused skills and are overwhelmingly populated by non-traditional students such as adult learners, people with jobs and families, and military vets especially.
The issue came to a head last year when Democratic senators tried to bully the IRS into investigating certain private colleges attempting to move from for-profit to nonprofit status. Now they’ve chosen the Veterans Administration as their vehicle, pressuring the agency to deny vets the ability to use GI Bill funding for tuition at the institution of their choice.
Their efforts have amounted to seizing upon a handful of anecdotal student experiences and inflating them to paint the entire sector of career-oriented colleges as “scams” that offer an inferior education and put profit motive above student welfare. Don’t believe a word of it.
Overwhelmingly, these institutions of learning and career advancement have proved themselves to be an invaluable component of choice in higher education, graduating tens of thousands of students at a rate on par with traditional universities while excelling at job and career placement.
They have been innovators in flexible scheduling and online learning, options without which many adult learners would otherwise not be able to further their education. An adult student in the workforce or raising a family typically has no desire to fulfill a requirement in English 101, physical education, or any course unrelated to their career goals.
Private colleges are further much more adept in providing their career-oriented students current and cutting-edge training in their desired field of study, frequently hiring faculty members who are actually working professionals in the industry in which they teach. Traditional public university systems have lagged in this area, often hamstrung with tenured faculty teaching the same material year after year with limited or no real connection with today’s rapidly evolving economy.
Career-focused colleges offer other innovations that serve military and working adult students, such as Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) that gives students credit for work experience and the convenience of online and self-paced learning. Traditional schools such as those pushed by the self-appointed “Education Czars” in Washington are years behind in this trend.
The primary reason adult learners go to college is to get a job, and here is where for-profit schools excel compared to traditional universities. Many are known for career services departments with high placement rates into jobs that actually apply the degree earned. That is a “dirty little secret” many traditional schools try hard to conceal.
The student-centered innovations offered by career-focused schools are providing the opportunity for tens of thousands of America’s veterans who otherwise may not be able to advance their education. This is something to be praised, not disparaged. The schools at issue are further highly focused on job placement after graduation, the very reason adult learners return to school.
The politicians seeking to deny GI Bill tuition to non-traditional schools are not helping the students they claim but merely protecting the political power of a special interest. There are dozens of public universities with abysmal retention and graduation rates, often below 10 percent of matriculating students, but somehow these schools seem to escape scrutiny.
While the Veterans Administration has yet to show interest in these concerted attacks, this ongoing campaign to discredit career-focused learning should not be taken lightly. Phony “veterans” groups filled with political operatives are sprouting up to amplify this outrageous political agenda. One calling itself Veterans Education Success (VES) poses as an unbiased veterans’ organization but in reality houses many Democratic political operatives.
Career-oriented colleges are engines of opportunity, among veterans especially, and will continue to play a vital role in helping America add the skilled workers our economy needs. Ditch diggers need not apply. Veterans don’t need a government nanny standing over them, telling them how they are allowed to pursue their goals.
It’s time to stop playing politics with our nation’s veterans seeking to advance their lives through educational opportunity.
Capt. Kenny Golden retired after 31 years in the U.S. Navy and served as the Commander of Amphibious Task Force West at Little Creek Amphibious Base. Capt. Golden is now a civic activist/commentator in Hampton Roads who follows military and veteran issues.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. The views and opinions expressed by the author are those of the writer and do not reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.