DC Influencer: Harris Miller, president, Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities

Harris Miller, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, talks to Jaimy Lee about for-profit education's image

This summer, your group changed its name from the Career College Association. Why was it necessary?

The previous name was adopted in 1991. The schools were almost exclusively short-term programs - certificate and diploma programs. A few offered associate degrees. Now, over 50% of the programs offer associate degrees, another 20% bachelor degrees or higher. There's been a fundamental change in the structure of what is represented in private-sector colleges and universities.

Has that impacted the types of issues that you're dealing with in Washington?

Our sector has grown to over 12% of all students in post-secondary education. That's up from a little over 9% last year and up from 2% or 3% 10 years ago. That shows that there is a demand for higher education in this country and the traditional institutions are not adequately serving that demand. If the employers are demanding more and more credentials as part of their hiring or as part of their promotions, we respond to what the marketplace is demanding. 

What steps have you taken to communicate the industry's value to the White House and policymakers?

The Obama administration tends to hire the best and brightest, as most administrations do. Few of those people went to our schools. Frankly, many might not have known much about our sector. We've been very active in meeting with them and continuously informing them about what we're able to do, which is expand capacity. This is so critical to the President's objective of the US regaining its global pre-eminence in higher education by 2020.

A Department of Education report said four out of 15 for-profit schools encourage fraud. You spoke out strongly against these practices.

We don't believe it's typical, but it's troubling. Our six-point plan focuses on encouraging appropriate government agencies and crediting bodies to in- crease enforcement. US Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced he's hiring more people to do more program reviews. We hope the crediting bodies do the same. We're not afraid of enforcement.

Several companies are looking to hire agencies to help them manage their reputation and communicate their value. Where is the industry on this now?

Some damage has been done. Unfortunately, we often get attacked by anecdotal evidence. The vast majority of students attending our schools find the education they get changing their lives for the better. Our challenge is to get the message out - not just by us, but by students, employers who hire them, and local communities where they work. We must do a better job telling that story.

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