Editor note: Despite the GUARDIAN name, there is no connection between the blog and the school in Meridian.
As the economic woes continue in Idaho and the USA, we thought this piece was worthy of a post here. It demonstrates the difficulty of the private sector in direct competition with the government–CWI in this case– which plays by a different set of rules. The author owns and operates a school for paramedic training in Meridian.
By Loralei Sturkie
President, Guardian College LLC
Businesses thrive on competition. It provides incentives to improve efficiency and quality while reducing costs. Industries can change literally overnight with innovation (look at Redbox vs.Blockbuster as an example.)
But when government becomes the competitor instead of the referee, things can go terribly wrong. In the post-secondary education sector, the desire to have access to an affordable education that leads to a more productive workforce has become an insatiable monster, consuming tax dollars from Idaho citizens with ever decreasing benefit to the community, and putting private businesses that do more with less out of business.
When I purchased The CPR Connection in 2004, it was a little place teaching CPR, First Aid, and EMT classes. We routinely had EMT classes numbering 35-40 students each semester and charged a reasonable fee. Our costs to register as a proprietary school was a few hundred dollars per year, and basically let them know who we were, what we taught, and provided a $25,000 bond to help demonstrate that we were legitimate.
A few years ago, the state decided to go along with national recommendations that all paramedic programs should be nationally accredited, and announced that all such programs would face a 2013 deadline to do so. A paramedic educator out of Twin Falls approached me about joining forces, since he did not have the administrative staff to accomplish such a task. We began working together as Guardian College in 2006.
Initially, the requirements for accreditation were the same for all, whether a school was private, public, or based out of a fire or EMS service. However, because of the clout of EMS providers at the national level, the most costly and time consuming requirements were waived for government entities. This change alone put us behind by at least two years and tens of thousands of dollars compared to other paramedic education programs. Our costs per student have risen over 50% because of the added costs of accreditation, which are not borne equally by all paramedic education programs.
At about the same time, the State Board of Education decided that the old school registration and tuition recovery fund were not meeting the needs of Idaho students, because of the closure of two private schools in one year. Although most of the prepaid tuition eventually was returned to the students, the board assumed that all schools were equally guilty and demanded that every dollar of tuition paid before the last day of the course be guaranteed to be refunded to the student in case of school closure. The rationale was that the education would be completely useless without the diploma or completion certificate. In truth, many career education programs are available for partial transfer credit, depending on the nature of the course and how many other schools teach a similar program. Ironically, another new requirement is to have a teach-out plan for a
school that may close; essentially a plan to have students complete their training elsewhere, which would, if implemented, eliminate the need for a bond altogether.
When the flyers touting the benefits of a community college began arriving in the mail, I asked myself where all this money came from to persuade voters to increase their property taxes, and what I could have done with the funds from just one of these mailings. Turns out it came from a private foundation. Too bad that they didn’t simply fund their own junior college instead of expecting taxpayers to pay for it. While they promote school choice for K-12, they seemed to be unconcerned that a community college may not be the best way of providing job training for the region. Now the same community college can offer the same programs at lower prices, since they avoid the extra regulatory costs from the Board of Education imposed on
private schools. They also get the benefit of piggybacking on CSI’s accreditation which enables them to receive federal financial aid, while private schools must first earn accreditation and demonstrate financial stability to qualify.
Despite the unfair competition, I can still boast a 94% placement rate and 98% graduation rate. State-funded schools won’t tell you their placement rates because they don’t consider it their business to help graduates find jobs, and their accrediting bodies do not require them to meet placement minimums. They do, however, track graduation rates; you may be surprised how well they serve students who attend with the assistance of taxpayer support. I believe Boise State’s grad rate is about 30%. Do taxpayers really want to help students receive Art History, Ethnic Studies, and other degrees for which there are no jobs?
Unlike long degree programs, my college specializes in fast training that enables students to become job-ready in months instead of years. Instead of spending five or more semesters at a community college, earning money at low pay over the summers, my students can recoup their entire education investment in a year based on the expected pay increase over their community college peers. Even compared to a student who receives free tuition, and only pays for room and board over that time frame, my students come out tens of thousands of dollars ahead because they are earning instead of spending.
While taxpayer-supported education is a noble goal to make college available to more than just the wealthy, all higher institutions have become dependent on federal and state dollars and have grown their budgets to meet the available funds instead of considering a true benefit to their communities. A first step to taming this behemoth would be to require schools to only offer programs for which there is an unmet need in the private sector, and for which there is a demand for graduates. Offering education in programs for which no job awaits does a disservice to both the student and the taxpayer.
President, Guardian College LLC
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Dec 13, 2010, 2:30 pm
Frankly, there are so many different for profit college businesses in this valley it must be a very profitable business model.
The mission of Community Colleges is to give people a two year education in a field they can get a job. Universities do not hold this promise for students.
Dec 13, 2010, 11:44 pm
I would say the cost of CWI vs. Guardian college is the big difference, especially for my 19 year old. Correct me if I’m wrong, the the guardian cost about 10000 dollars. That is a big hurdle for my teenager that wants to be a paramedic. CWI would be a more realistic and take his AP classes for credit toward fulfilling a degree. I think paramedic programs are few and far between in Idaho and the more quality choices the better.
Someone how wants the fast track or someone how wants a long route, now there are options. Choice is always better.
Dec 14, 2010, 12:25 am
Eventually we will reach the point when CWI will go to the legislature for additional funding. When the committee members ask how they can justify additional monies, they will be quick to point out that they are “supplying paramedic training throughout the southern portion of the state” Then they will whine that without the funding the people will “suffer a loss of adequate training for life support”. The county has been sticking it to private paramedic services for years! Why would we be surprised when the state does it as well?
Dec 14, 2010, 8:57 am
Fiona, this is true ONLY when a college has been accredited and is approved for federal financial aid. They are allowed to fund up to 90% of their tuition that way. Larger schools expand by opening branch campuses; they can use their existing accreditation temporarily. The problem is that the system has been stacked against emerging schools. When we were accredited, we were told that we were the first new school in years to apply. Idaho’s increased regulatory burden further hinders the development of new and innovative career education programs.
Dec 14, 2010, 12:31 pm
I’m no supporter of guvmint unfairly competing against private enterprise (see previous Guardian story regarding Land Board storage unit business) but I gotta say this smacks of whining. Loralei if your program is better and gets students employed faster with quicker payback then I bet they will find a way to attend your school vs. CWI. If anything maybe they (CWI) have done you a favor by proving how much better your program is?
Dec 15, 2010, 12:58 am
Ms. Sturkie, why don’t you disclose that you are married to Dr. Sturkie, one of the medical directors for Ada County Paramedics and also medical director for Eagle Fire’s EMT’s? Where is the outrage at Kuna FD running their own paramedic classes, now in session. Where was the outrage when Ada County ran their own paramedic classes to upgrade the EMT-B’ and EMT-I’s. Oh that’s right, your husband taught some of the classes for that program. There is way more here than meets the eye.
Dec 15, 2010, 3:06 pm
My husband did not teach classes for either Ada County or Kuna. If you will take a closer look at the beginning of my article, I specifically mention that because of the clout of EMS agencies nationwide who teach paramedic programs, the most expensive part of accreditation (becoming an accredited school) was removed from the requirements for agencies. I have expressed to National Registry that the policy was unfair, especially when those agencies were taking money from private students. The headline referencing CWI was not my doing; I refer to government entities in general.
Dec 15, 2010, 11:29 pm
Over the last year or so I have read the debate about paramedics working for the City of Boise or Ada County….who should be able to put a person in an ambulance…who should drive an ambulance….how the ambulance should be painted. Some of the debate seemed silly…other parts of it seemed eye opening. The one constant on both sides of the debate was the medical aspect of how paramedics work. Something I believe many people never thought about.
Now the debate will shift to government vs private business training of paramedics. I wonder how the debate will play out on this subject.
All that being said, if good medicine is truly the constant for both sides of this debate, then I respectively say Ms. Sturkie………how embarrassing for you…….the fact you wrote in your letter….
“my college specializes in fast training that enables students to become job-ready in months instead of years.”
Exactly what I want….a person who was ‘fast-trained’ through medical education. Sounds great!! I don’t know if I would like my Doctor being ‘fast-trained’ through a program. Perhaps the debate should not be government vs private. Maybe it should be do we want ‘fast-trained’ people working in any aspect of medicine…..
Dec 16, 2010, 1:10 pm
Loralei…Interesting web site, do you sell vacuum cleaners also?. I didn’t see much about your ems intructors list on real world experience. You covered Personnal Trainers well.
Dec 17, 2010, 6:29 pm
Seems like a paramedic-factory to me. What Ms. Sturkie also failed to report is that her husband is an ER physician and the former medical director of Ada County Paramedics and current serves on the advisory board for Ada County Paramedics. Kinda seems like a conflict of interest to me. No wonder they are upset over CWI getting involved ruining their “98% job placement rating”.
Dec 27, 2010, 3:37 pm
I have yet to see a quality paramedic come out of a fast track program.(although I am sure there are rare exceptions) Unless you have had YEARS of prior EMS experience….or a seasoned Army Medic, there is no way in hell anyone can stuff that amount of knowledge in your brain let alone be proficient at it. Year programs produce a much better quality medics…..without question!