Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan participated in a webcast held by Organizing for America to discuss education reform. In response to a question on college affordability, Duncan stated, “We’re lucky in this country, we have the best set of universities in the world, by far, no one comes close, and students have never had more choices. And so I think what you’re going to see is you’re going to see students voting with their feet and if places are too expensive and if they’re not getting value for their money, they’re going to go some other places.”
This statement is true in a number of ways. Parents and students increasingly are seeking information from colleges and universities on accountability – and some universities are creating an accountability section on their admissions page of their website. But it is also evident in the growth in the number of those who have chosen to attend private sector colleges in order to become prepared for a specific career or because of the flexibility and accessibility of the private sector college. These students have already ‘voted with their feet’ by choosing to receive an education that includes career preparation. For many of these students, there is no incentive to choose a traditional college or university for monetary or educational purposes. In many cases these students cannot receive the same degree from a traditional institution or the degree from the private sector is just offered in a more flexible way that meets the needs of working adults with families.
For years, private sector institutions have filled a gap in education that traditional institutions have been unable to fill. They educate students from working families, and these institutions provide their students with skills to become career-ready – a niche that cannot be filled by many four-year colleges and universities. In the past, Secretary Duncan has argued, “The best thing we can do is educate our way to a better economy” – and I agree. With the state of today’s economy, we must give students the opportunity to get the best education they can receive, and that means choice of traditional school or private sector school.