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The Sort-of Promise of the Career School

Terrell Waller, Workforce Development Specialist | 10/10/2013, 10 a.m.
Terrell Waller

It was like any other college graduation, except this particular school was a proprietary one — the kind that (sort of) promises a job at the end of a short, well-defined training program. I was working for the school and, because of my writing skills, was asked to assist one of the chosen graduates in formulating a good commencement speech. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call him Ronald.

Upon meeting Ronald, one might assume that prior to deciding to give higher education a try, he had a tough start. Multiple, questionable body tattoos, long braided hair and a seemingly tough exterior gave him the air of “thug” rather than a young man about to be a college graduate.

Because of my background in job placement, our first conversation was riddled with questions of future job possibilities. Ronald admitted to past indiscretions with the law and not being particularly dedicated to his studies when he was in high school. However, having a couple of children -- and mounting bills – in recent years convinced him it was past time to get serious about life.

I was more than happy to spend some quality time assisting him in formulating a viable start plan. After roughly an hour, I wished Ronald well and hoped for the very best.

That was two years ago.

Recently I attended a baby shower for my youngest sister, organized by the now-matriarch of the family, my older sister. Knowing I wouldn't be making it back home after the festivities, I felt the need to pick up some late night snacks. Like most perpetual dieters, my elder sister generally has little food and I have a bit of a sweet tooth.

While perusing the candy section of a popular grocery store, I noticed someone motioning for my attention. A staunch New Yorker, I rarely, if ever, respond to such gestures. Then I heard, “Hey! You helped me write my speech! Mr. Waller, right?”

I turned to find a heavily tattooed man, trailing a large contraption of cleaning supplies. Lo and behold, it was Ronald, the college graduate! He was apparently the cleaning man for the store. A bittersweet reunion, to say the least.

After administering the familiar black-man greeting, I asked, “What the heck brings you here?” He began his tale of woe:

“After graduation I couldn't find a job. My past record and not being familiar with what I needed to help me, left me needing to find something quick! Also, I now owe so much money to the school…”

I asked him if the school had told him upon enrolling that it might be difficult to find employment after he graduated because of his background. He said that they didn't. They were simply eager to enroll him and receive funding for yet another student, he said.

Ronald, the college graduate, had become Ronald, the cleaning associate.

More than disheartened by Ronald’s outcome, I decided to blog/rant on the topic of proprietary schools. Career schools, technical colleges and training academies have become very popular in the past decade. They are arguably the fastest-rising alternative educational source for the traditionally under-educated community (people with just or without GEDs). Slick advertising, coupled with a promise of a better life, have attracted many trying to better their particular situation.

Now, on the surface, short-term training in a particular field of interest, with the likelihood of working in an exciting field, would be attractive to even the most cynical of us. However, in the career college world, the “promise” of the exciting career after graduation rarely materializes.

Graduates are often left with crushing school debt and added stress of finding employment in a field still foreign to them. Upon closer inspection, these schools often have job-placement rates of 15 to 50 percent! This means that the bulk of their students ultimately end up in jobs like Ronald’s.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am happy that Ronald is honoring his financial commitments. But after graduating with the “promise” of a better future, he deserves more.

I left him with my card. I also truly promised him help. I’ll keep you posted.