Who Takes the Brunt of The New York Times’ Report?

In college, I was once asked to figure the half-life of a nuclear bomb, which seemed like a waste of brain power in my opinion. The process involves taking derivatives, which requires division … which to a word person like me involves boredom. Why would the mid-point for radioactivity lingering in the environment possibly be important if there would be no one around to write about it? The question seemed pointless and the answer, which pinpointed a time several hundred years in the future, held no meaning for me.

Almost two weeks old now, The New York Times piece on career education was the starting point for a mathematical analysis on my part, and I kept dividing the numbers until the only figure left was me. The division began with the largest and most obvious group impacted by the Times’ errant reporting, and worked through a few audiences that many of us might not imagine taking the brunt of the report, but do … and have to live with it far longer than the journalists involved.

If you frequent our website or social media pages, you either read or heard about the Times piece, “In Hard Times, Lured into Trade School and Debt”. Despite sources that were surprised we republished the piece, we decided to feature the original article in our daily news blast. The next day, we covered the aftermath when Career College Association President Harris Miller shared his letter to the editor of the publication. And in the following days, we wrote blog posts about the article’s flawed logic and clarified why we post negative news about career colleges.

Our detractors thought it would make more sense not to contribute to the spreading of malicious material about career education to any more people than the ones who’d already read it. Granted, one-sided accounts with multiple anecdotes in which students speak out against the for-profit model of education are particularly damaging to our business.

But aside from the usual concerns from the sector that involve the business perspective, my deductions began by taking a more specific look at who suffers the consequences from the negative PR. Overall, my assessment is broad and in some cases the possibilities expressed here are extreme. One article might not encourage someone to refrain from pursuing an education at a career college, for example, but a negative piece from the Times among a heap of other less-than-stellar news reports could be influential and lead to some real changes in decision making:

  • Students/Potential Students/Their Families – Sometimes lacking belief in themselves and often lacking support at home, this is the most obvious group with the most potentially damaging outcome. The message in the article for them is that career colleges are dirty, underhanded frauds out to enroll you for your financial aid money. If you are already taking classes and a friend or family member forwarded this piece to you, you might seriously reconsider whether you made the right choice for your education. If going to school has been a struggle at all, you might follow through on your self-doubts and drop out. Or you might not pursue your education at a career college in the first place. For potential career college students, a very real, helpful education model that could lead your family to a better life is negated.
  • Career Colleges – News coverage of career colleges is too often limited to the big-name conglomerates whose stock is traded on Wall Street. And, even then, we all know the coverage is often unfair. The vast majority of our schools conduct business by-the-book and are held to standards far more stringent than those applied to traditional colleges and universities. None of that matters, though, if students make a different decision. Regardless of the bottom line, career colleges intent on providing a legitimate path for students into new careers and better lives could miss out on the opportunity to turn lives around.
  • Professionals within the Career College Industry –The quiet casualties are the people who work in career education institutions or the businesses that support them in retaining staff and students or marketing to students. These are talented professionals who want to put their time and effort into helping people. After reading a piece like this, some walk away reaffirmed of the overwhelming negativity they read in the traditional news media. Newspapers move on from story to story. They hit an industry, and then turn their attention to something else. Those of us in an industry are left to pick up the pieces. Most of us share the common desires that drive motivated professionals. Most of us want to contribute to something larger than ourselves. We want to feel good about our work. We want to help other people. And, we definitely don’t want to drive home at night wondering if we’re rip-off artists.
  • Career College Central  The final word on anything in this country comes from The New York Times. In a nation founded on free thought and non-compliance, it’s astounding to me how so many people can carelessly process news and agree with what they read. Once words have been put in writing, they carry extra weight. When the name behind the words is the Times, the words mean more. So when the Times says career colleges force students into debt in this economy, what about those of us who cover career colleges? The reverse side to their argument is that those of us who cover the industry must surely be the antithesis of journalistic integrity. After all, we bring a voice to career colleges. We tell stories of successful students in our magazine. But, truth be told, this publication was founded because of articles such as the Times piece. We’re here to call out misinformation, to rally people, and to tell a much fuller story.

The question about career college integrity has gone on for at least three or four decades now. The question lost its luster a long time ago.  The answer isn’t likely to come in the Times or any other publication where the journalists were educated at four-year schools and have a fundamental misunderstanding about the way the sector operates. The only truth I can find is in our sector’s longevity. Those are the numbers that count. But then again, I’ve never been a math person.

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