Opportunities! Obligations!

Pro-activeness to take center stage at the 2018 Career Education Colleges and Universities Convention & Exposition

By Kevin Kuzma, Consulting Editor

It’s a new era of opportunity – and the feeling in and around career colleges has changed.

No longer figuratively crouching in protection from over-reaching government intrusion, a new feeling of promise and opportunity has swept through the halls of career training-oriented colleges all over the nation.

This sense of prosperity, which has been prevalent since the last presidential election, will officially take center stage this year at the 2018 2018 Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU) Convention & Exposition in Orlando, Fla., June 3-6. The CECU convention is the largest annual gathering of career education professionals. Every year, CECU staff develop a learning track for professionals at varying levels of familiarity with career education to learn more about the sector and gain insights that could help their schools succeed. The event also offers many opportunities to network with industry experts and sector leaders, and learn about the challenges facing other learning institutions.

The “vibe” among convention-goers often accurately mirror the reality of the career education field at the time. Sector leaders who attend have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening at career schools across the United States. But perhaps no one is more in tune with these realities than longtime President & CEO of CECU, Steve Gunderson.

As we do each year, Career College Central visited with Mr. Gunderson about the upcoming convention and what attendees can expect not only from a programming perspective, but in terms of the momentum the sector is experiencing and how that is impacting growth. Here is our conversation:

  1. CCC: Let’s begin with the theme of the convention. Tell us why you chose “Opportunities! Obligations!”? How does it set the tone for the event?

Gunderson: We chose this title because the sector gathers at an incredibly important moment. On the one hand we know that the current political and economic environment gives our sector a series of opportunities. The economy is demanding more skilled workers – in the fields we teach. The regulatory environment (at the federal level) is likely to give us much more fair, equitable regulations on both Gainful Employment and Borrower Defense to Repayment. In many ways, we are looking at both a more level playing field and the chance to be proactive rather than defensive.


But, at the same time, the sector recognizes that we must use this opportunity. We have an obligation to provide outcomes from our programs that reflect the quality of our commitment to academic excellence. As a sector, we must do better in ways that will prevent any policy makers in the future from attacking our sector as we have been attacked over the past 10 years. As they say, “With freedom comes responsibility.” We must meet that responsibility in ways that prevents any similar ideological assaults in the future.


  1. CCC: What is the No. 1 objective you hope to accomplish organizationally as CECU at this convention? What is your No. 1 objective for the sector as a whole?

Gunderson: This convention must embrace the future! We, as CECU, must provide our attendees with a vision of what the future will look like. But we must also equip them and inspire them to frame the future in ways that enables our sector to not only own post-secondary career education; but to own it with a commitment to excellence in all that we do – our programs, our admissions, our graduations, our placements and above all our outcomes!


This sector, was the target of an ideological assault. Our opponents didn’t just go after what they termed the “bad schools” they went after everyone! Our sector must reclaim the ability to frame its own future. I hope we both inspire them and equip them to do so.


  1. CCC: What do you believe the atmosphere will be like at this year’s convention? (I know this is tough to pinpoint sometimes, but if you can that would be great. The mood within the sector at large tends to influence what people bring to/get out of this event.)


Gunderson: There is a growing sense of relief among our members. I just heard it in a phone call again this morning. Schools are beginning to see some recovery in enrollment even with low unemployment. Schools are beginning to feel that employers and others recognize the critical role our schools do play, and must play in providing skilled workers. Obviously, there is a growing sense of relief from the heavy hammer of the federal government. So, in total, there is a growing sense that things are starting to get better and they are seeing this within their own schools, their own communities.


  1. CCC: What is different about this year’s convention compared to last year’s?


Gunderson: That’s a great question! I think last year we gathered in hope and anticipation. This year we gather with much more real evidence of positive change. Certainly the Negotiated Rule-making hearings have provided some insight into the Department’s perspectives in revising these rules. Certainly Congresswoman Virginia Foxx’s PROSPER Act shows us a legislative vehicle that recognizes, respects and reflects our sector’s goals. Finally, I think schools are beginning to see the change in enrollment and reputation within their own institutions. So, this year we will certainly gather with both the evidence of positive change – and the desire to move such change forward in real ways school by school.


  1. CCC: What do you feel are going to be the “hot topics” for this year’s convention, both online and offline?


Gunderson: Well, first there will be a lot of anticipation of what the proposed rules on GE and BDR will look like because we expect both of NPRM’s to be published sometime in June. Second, one cannot escape looking at the politics of 2018 and how the mid-term elections might impact our sector on Capitol Hill. Finally, I think there will be a lot of conversation regarding a new set of accountability metrics – not only in regulations, but also in HEA Re authorization and beyond.


  1. CCC: What can we expect from speakers such as futurist Seth Mattison and Congressman Brian Mast?


Gunderson: We had Seth Mattison keynote last fall’s CEO Summit. He was so well received that Seth is coming back to the full annual convention by popular demand! I don’t know how much you know about him. But he grew up in rural Minnesota. He brings classic Midwest values to his speaking. He is also a futurist who focuses on the changing American workforce and workplace. Finally, you will never meet any speaker who does more homework in preparation for his presentation. He knows exactly who we are, and will speak directly to what we should be doing within the context of the larger economic dynamics.


When Art Keiser became Chair of this year’s convention, I think the first thing he told me was “We need to get Congressman Brian Mast to speak!” Ark knows Mr. Mast very well. And he knows that in Congressman Mast we bring someone who is a strong supporter of our sector, with an incredible record of military service to offer his vision for America’s future. I predict this will be one very emotional, inspirational presentation!


  1. CCC: Is there any other aspects of the convention you would like to highlight?


Gunderson:  Absolutely! I know that people always feel they need to leave conventions early. But this time just has to be different!


Our Closing Plenary at 10:30 on Wednesday morning will include a conversation/debate between Ben Miller of the Center for American Progress and Keith Zakarin, the Chair of the Duane Morris Education Practice and a former school owner. They will speak to the topic “Can We find Consensus: The Future of the Postsecondary Career Education Sector.” This session will be moderated by Doug Lederman, Editor of Inside Higher Education.


I can’t imagine a more perfect program to conclude the 2018 convention.  This could be intense yet funny, confrontational yet forward-looking, engaging yet incredibly productive. Heck, we might even make history!

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of