User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: Get an Education, Skip the Training Schools

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Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Get an Education, Skip the Training Schools

You've all seen them.  Turn on your TV set to just about any channel you can think of at just about any time you can imagine, and you will get a steady diet of commercials from the University of Phoenix, Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, The Art Institutes and just about any other place you can think of that offers training on a for-profit basis.

The commercials make an assortment of pitches for their varied audiences.  You get the one with the supportive wife that encouraged her husband to return to school so that her family could enjoy a better life.  You got the one of the mom, dad and adult son driving expensive-looking all-terrain vehicles through the woods.  The words describe how the school's programs will open up a lifestyle that would otherwise not be possible without attending.  You also got the one with the young man who says he used to work minimum wage construction jobs until he was able to upgrade his skills and lifestyle by going to the school.  You can add to this the assortment of more academically-oriented for-profits offering everything from Internet MBAs to computer training courses.

So the audiences are varied, but the message is still very much the same.  Come to us, and in a few short months we can transform your life from its current low-income existence to exciting middle-class bliss.  Of course, another unspoken message is that if you choose not to go to a for-profit school, your life won't change.

Can it work?  Sometimes.  Go to the TV chef's school, and "study cuisines all over the globe", and the school just may have you back as an instructor.  But, this is the exception and not the rule.  I would be willing to bet that "studying cuisines all over the globe" means holding an assortment of key jobs in top restaurants around the world.  Of course, if you can do this, than you are another Emeril Lugossy and will make a good living no matter what.  But just going to the school won't get you anywhere unless you put something into it yourself.  You have to actually learn something from the instruction, then go out and get a job in the field and be a success at it.  And of course in an artistic endeavor like cooking, you have to have talent as well.  Try as hard as you like, if you don't have "what it takes", then your chef career will consist of working in the local greasy spoon for relatively low wages.  And, I am willing to bet, that is what happens to most graduates of this program that actually stick with the work.

I'm not going to sit here and quote facts and figures, because I feel lazy right now and don't feel like doing the research.  But don't worry, I am familiar with the story and can write about this topic fairly proficiently "off the cuff".  And besides it is more fun to do this than struggling through a bunch of material to extract good statistics.  Without quoting specific numbers, the Obama Administration has just conducted an investigation of the education industry and here's what they found:  The highest graduation rates are at private non-profit schools like Harvard, Princeton and you guessed it, Rider College.  Regardless of whether they are Ivy League or just local colleges, the private non-profits seem to be the aristocrats of the business with the most success at producing graduates from new students.  Next comes the public schools, which range from places like USC Berkeley all the way to Mercer County Community College. The highest drop out rates are at the for-profit schools.  So you apparently have a good chance of "doing something else" once again after attending Motorcycle Mechanics Institute.

The same is also true for whether graduates get jobs in their field of study.  Again private non-profits seem to be the best at graduating students who actually get work in what they took up.  Next comes the public schools.  At the bottom of the pack are the for-profits.

Ditto for student loan default rates.  The fewest defaults occur among students from private non-profits.  Next come the public colleges, and the default champs are students from for-profit schools.

There you have it.  If you want your kid to have the least chance of graduating, have the lowest chance of finding work in what they took up,  and give them the greatest chance of having student loans follow them around until retirement, then send them to a for-profit school.

Why is this so?  The "for dummies" answer is that the focus of for-profit schools is the bottom line.  Training students is not their "passion", it is just a means of producing profits.  And the greatest profits can be produced by actively recruiting students without too much concern about whether the students have the aptitude to complete the work, whether the instructors have the chops to effectively teach the subject, or whether what is being taught includes the skills that real employers are looking for, or whether the jobs at the end of the line are actually in demand or pay sufficiently to enable graduates to pay their student loans.

Sad but true, many of these schools are just degree mills looking for suckers to sign on as students in order to fatten the school's bottom line.

My interest in all this of course is that I work for the statistical branch of the New Jersey Department of Labor.  People come to the state labor department for much the same reason why they call the police or fire department.  They are having an emergency and are looking for outside help to take care of it.  In the case of people the come to the labor department, most are out of work and are looking for unemployment insurance to tide themselves over until they find another job.  And finding another job can frequently mean looking into training to improve skills to increase the chances of finding new work.

That's where we come in.  My shop produces long-term employment projections which provide insight into the number of workers in an occupation that employers are expected to need 10 years from now compared to what they need today.  This provides an indication of whether a job is in growing demand or in declining demand.
Since the long-term demand list is not supposed to take the business cycle into account, it doesn't always work too well over the short term during a recession.  So our staff developed another product called Real Time Jobs In Demand to provide an indication of whether employers are hiring workers in a given occupation today as well as how many workers in this occupation are currently out of work.   One way this is useful is that if a lot of experienced truck drivers are already out of work, what do you think your chances of finding work after going to truck driving school would be.  Not too good of course.

I am not saying that private trade schools are always bad choices for youths preparing for the world of work or for adults interested in a career change.   All I am saying is take the claims of the counselors at the school with a grain of salt.  Go to your local One Stop Career Center or to an independent career counselor for the real dope on the job's employment outlook, pay scales, working conditions, etc.

1 comment:

  1. The One Stop Career Center is a great place to go for training, but not for a job. I have applied to countless jobs, AND I have a Bachelor's degree in accounting. My problem is that I got my degree in 2002 (I'm 37 now) and I never worked in an accounting office. I worked other jobs to put myself through school and continued down that path, but now I want to use my degree but can't even get my foot in the door as a clerk, bookkeeper, anything. I have gone back to MCCC to take classes to re-familiarize myself and update my skills; still nothing and OSCC hasn't been able to assist in placement.