Public Attitudes about Career Colleges

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Career College News

by Kerry Turner

Have you ever wondered how the general public felt about career colleges? Do most know what the term "career college" means? How do parents of high school students feel about their kids enrolling at a career college? These are just a few of the questions that the Career College Association (CCA) wanted answered when they commissioned a recent study from the prominent research firm, Peter D. Hart Research Associates. The study was to examine various aspects of the public's attitudes on career colleges, including the perceptions and judgments about the role of career colleges – who career colleges serve, what their mission is, and how well they fulfill their mission.

In early 2006, Hart Research conducted focus groups and a nationwide survey, including parents of high school seniors/juniors and working adults (ages 24-44) without a Bachelor's who say they might consider further education/training. What the Hart Research study found may surprise some and affirm the beliefs of others.

Many survey respondents did not automatically know what types of institutions were considered "career colleges." Previously referred to as "technical colleges," "vocational colleges," "trade schools" and so on, "career colleges" are higher education institutions that provide "career-specific educational programs in a wide variety of occupations, such as computers and information technology, health, business administration, commercial art, radio and television broadcasting, and culinary and hospital management." The public is often surprised at the extensive span of occupational studies that career colleges offer students. Career colleges also offer a range of degrees from diplomas and certificates to Bachelors' and Master's degrees.

The Hart Research study found that while 84 percent of high school parents and working adults believe that a degree from a four-year college or university might be the right choice for some young people, they also felt that others might benefit more from other education alternatives that career colleges can provide. Most Americans recognize that our changing economy requires additional focus on job training and skills; and traditional education institutions sometimes fail to meet these new demands. In fact, 43 percent of the survey respondents felt that America's higher education system is "not doing enough" in preparing young people to meet the demands of the work/world/adult life.

In the area of parents of high school seniors/juniors, 59 percent saw career colleges as a better option for today's economy; 59 percent of moms and 47 percent of dads in this group also believed that career colleges played an important role in preparing young people for challenges of the work world and adult life. Knowing that career colleges are "for-profit" institutions had little effect on the survey respondents' attitudes toward career colleges. In fact, the Hart Research study found that 62 percent of high school parents and working adults said knowing that career colleges were for-profit institutions made them more favorable toward career colleges.

In concluding their findings on the public's attitudes toward career colleges, Hart Research recommended that career colleges continue highlighting their strengths in "providing specialized and career-specific courses, giving people opportunity to change jobs through retraining, and offering a good value [education] – which is critical in an era of increasing education costs." Furthermore, this study and others show that the general public does recognize the key role of career colleges in the postsecondary sector and their increasing benefits in today's economy.

If you have comments or questions about this article, send us an e-mail at ianewsletter@career.org.