Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A two year college takes on the for-profits

Inside Higher Ed reports that Ozarks Technical Community College is naming names in a marketing campaign that compares its tuition to for-profit colleges.

A TV commercial the college unveiled last week compares the $3,300 annual cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies at Ozarks to $32,000 at Bryan College, a small Christian for-profit, $18,000 at ITT Tech and $14,000 at Everest College and Vatterott College.

“When looking at the costs, there is no comparison,” a voiceover says during the commercial. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

A pugnacious ad from a community college is rare. The sector generally avoids duking it out directly with for-profits, which have much bigger marketing budgets. But that may change as community colleges, like the rest of higher education, seek to demonstrate return on investment to an increasingly skeptical public.

“When you have a good thing going and you hide a light under a bushel, you’re not very smart,” said Hal L. Higdon, the chancellor at Ozarks, which is located in Springfield, Mo.

Enrollment is flat at many community colleges, after a broad surge in demand in the first couple years of the economic downturn. A cynic might suspect that Ozarks is chasing an elusive student market and trying to beat back strong competition from for-profits. Not so, however, as the college has struggled to meet heavy student demand, having seen its enrollment grow to 15,000 students from 9,000 several years ago. Ozarks has been forced to turn away students in allied health and technical programs.

Higdon also said for-profits haven’t been a major threat. “I don’t think they really hurt our enrollment.”

So why create the campaign?

The answer, Higdon said, is to help prospective students and their families be better-informed about college costs. Good consumer information can be hard to find in higher education, and hysteria about sticker prices at expensive private colleges tends to dominate the discourse. Higdon said students often do not know how affordable Ozarks is, or how its costs compare to those at for-profits. The college backs up its assertions in the ad with data from the U.S. Department of Education.

“We want our students to be smart consumers,” he said.

And for-profits do cause some problems for Ozarks. Higdon said students who have previously attended for-profits sometimes come to the college with heavy debt loads. Ozarks inherits those students’ debt on what it reports to the federal government, which also hurts the college on loan default rates.

Ozarks is not alone in overtly taking on competitors. Southwestern Illinois College has tried a similar tack with a marketing campaign the two-year institution began a few years ago. Dubbed "SWIC-onomics," the campaign’s print ads explain tuition at the college and how it is only a "fraction" of tuition levels at public and private universities.

More community colleges will likely test the water with bolder marketing, said Alan Moran, vice president of marketing and communications at Cuyahoga Community College. That will be a shift from a historic focus on advertising that pushes academic programs rather than “trying to show the value for attending the school,” he said.

And while sagging student demand may not be an issue at Ozarks, other community colleges are suffering from it. They might need to get more aggressive to beat back for-profits, most of which are struggling with even steeper enrollment declines.

“Community colleges will not sit by idly when students in their backyards are being poached,” said Moran.

Another reason Moran said community colleges will try different messages with prospective students is that the sector is increasingly getting into online education, which means trying to attract students from beyond their local areas. Cuyahoga is even marketing outside of Ohio.

However, he said the most effective advertisements are still those that try to show that an education at a community college leads to a good job or to further educational opportunities. Cuyahoga tests all of its ads, and the best responses are to stories about the success of actual students.

Ozarks is spending $20,000 on advertising during the first two weeks of the campaign. That’s peanuts compared to what for-profits can spend on marketing, particularly national chains.

For-profits often claim that state support gives community colleges an advantage in competing on price, which is certainly true to some extent. But Higdon said Missouri doesn’t get much credit for low tuition levels at Ozarks, which is roughly $4,000 for in-state students who live outside the local district. That’s because the state kicks in just $962 annually per full-time student, with total state support covering 13 percent of the college’s overall budget.

“We’re among the worst-funded higher education in the country,” he said.

Government funding probably isn’t coming back for community colleges. And as the sector becomes more privatized, it will need to be savvy about marketing, said Higdon, who previously worked in business.

“Everyone’s going to have to be there.”

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/11/27/community-college-takes-profits-marketing-campaign#ixzz2DQlvS413
Inside Higher Ed

Monday, November 26, 2012

MATC investing millions to create a skilled labor force

Milwaukee Area Technical College's new education initiatives are praised in the latest issue of the Milwaukee Business Journal.   writes: 
Milwaukee Area Technical College is investing millions into its programs to address the region’s talent shortage and has added dozens of new programs since 2011, president Michael Burke said.
The school also recently received a more than $1 million federal grant to provide advanced manufacturing support for the community, Burke said.

Southeastern Wisconsin employers, particularly manufacturers, say they’re struggling to find candidates for open positions with the right skill sets, despite high unemployment.
As part of its response to that need, MATC has added eight degrees, 15 technical diplomas and 24 certificates since 2011, Burke said. Those include a new welding certificate, a diploma in Web/mobile designer technology, and degrees in automotive technology, health care services management and computer simulation and gaming.

“These are all industry-certified skill sets,” Burke said. “I think this speaks to the evolution of our work force. I think it’s our responsibility to provide those, not necessarily degrees, but find industry skill sets that we can certify that students can layer on top of one another in essence to find that market niche in our work force arena here — or create a job (that didn’t exist before).”

Burke spoke during an education roundtable discussion Nov. 13 hosted by The Business Journal at The Pfister Hotel. Panelists — including leaders from technical colleges, private universities and two-year and four-year public colleges — shared the variety of ways their institutions are trying to bridge the gap for employers.

The rest of the article is linked here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another for profit, Career Education Corp., announces closings and layoffs

Only days after Career Education Corporation’s (CEC) shares plummeted and its CEO resigned, one of the nation’s largest for profit college chains announced that it would close 23 of 90 campuses and lay off 900 employees. CEC’s  Sanford Brown campus in Milwaukee is among those that will be shuttered.

The CEC has been hit hard by what a company official called "new market realities." It has seen its total and new student numbers dip by roughly 22 percent compared to last year and reported an operating loss of $110 million for the year through October.

Career Education Corp. is also facing increased scrutiny from its accreditors. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, established to provide accreditation to for-profit colleges that cannot achieve regional accreditation, has asked the company to "show cause" for why accreditation should not be withdrawn from 10 of its institutions. The inquiry stems from the company's acknowledgment that it lacked sufficient documentation for some job placement data.
The CEC is no stranger to controversy.

Just a year ago its Chief Executive Officer resigned after corporate profits significantly fell and allegations were made involving inflated student placement statistics. Several lawsuits were filed by investors who claimed they were defrauded while CEO Gary McCullough was paid nearly $9.8 million in 2011.

The CEC had previously been investigated by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission for various issues of non-compliance in 2005. In January 2008, CEC reported that the SEC has closed its investigation and would take no action against the company. A Department of Justice investigation began in 1994 and was terminated in April 2007, with the DOJ declining prosecution. Another investigation on a different matter was begun by the Civil Division of the DOJ in June 2006 and is currently ongoing.

In June 2005, the U.S. Department of Education prohibited CEC from expanding until it had resolved issues with financial statements and program reviews connected with Collins College and Brooks College two CEC schools. In January 2007, the U.S. Department of Education lifted its restrictions on the company opening new schools or acquiring existing ones.

CEC's division, American InterContinental University, was placed on probation in December 2005 with its accrediting agency, SACS. The probation status was reviewed after one year, in December 2006, and extended an additional 12 months. On December 11, 2007, CEC announced that SACS has removed AIU's probation and that the university's accreditation remains in good standing.

Brooks College, a CEC owned school, was the subject of an unfavorable examination of for-profit trade schools in the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes which focused on alleged misrepresentations by admission representatives to prospective students. A CBS producer with a hidden camera visited several CEC schools in the New York area, including the Katharine Gibbs School. In June 2007, Career Education Corporation announced that it will close both campuses of Brooks College.

In January 2007, the New York State Education Department reported deficiencies at the Katharine Gibbs School's New York campus. The problems related to faculty qualifications and remedial course offerings. Career Education has since closed Katharine Gibbs School's New York campus.

The California Culinary Academy, which was purchased by CEC in 1999, was the subject of an unfavorable article in the San Francisco Weekly focusing on misrepresentations and omissions made to prospective students to enroll them in the school. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a lawsuit was filed over the matter.

Before this week, the Career Education Corporation has 80,000 students and more than 90 campuses that located throughout the United States and in France, the United Kingdom and Monaco. Those institutions include, among others, American InterContinental University. ("AIU"); Brooks Institute; Colorado Technical University ("CTU"); Harrington College of Design; INSEEC Group ("INSEEC") Schools; International University of Monaco ("IUM"); International Academy of Design & Technology ("IADT"); Le Cordon Bleu North America ("LCB"); and Sanford-Brown Institutes and Colleges.