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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