by Daniel L. Bennett
Community college officials and other interested parties gathered this past weekend for the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges. From what I've read (here, here), the topic du jour was how to improve completion rates.
I know that some in the education community are under the illusion that their industry is in some way on a higher moral ground, making it therefore not appropriate to think of higher education in business or market terms. But I really must question whether anyone among the community college reform crowd has considered conducting a competitive market analysis to determine what its top competitors, the for-profit career colleges, are doing that enables them to retain and graduate demographically-similar students at much higher rates than the public community college sector, while charging higher out-of-pocket tuition.
I think they would find that the career colleges are specialized service providers that are focused on meeting the needs of their customers. They generally are focused on helping their students succeed by developing relationships with them in order to be in the position to identify potential issues that might lead to a student dropping out of school - before it happens. This allows college officials to step in when appropriate to help the students try to overcome the issues before a student drops out. Career colleges are also specialized service providers that aren't trying to offer a large number of educational programs and amenities in order to meet every single educational objective in a community (be all things to all people). Rather, they offer a limited number of career-specific training programs in fields for which there is likely a local demand for skilled workers.