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Welcome to The Seattle Times' online letters to the editor, a sampling of readers' opinions. Join the conversation by commenting on these letters or send your own letter of up to 200 words letters@seattletimes.com.

December 3, 2010 at 4:00 PM

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Columnist Lynne Varner: Graduation rates among career-college industry

Posted by Letters editor

Varner makes assumptions about cause of low graduation rates, academic failure

Lynne Varner made a few assumptions in her column discussing graduation rates [“Career-college industry offers subprime opportunities,” Opinion, Dec. 1]. I would like to challenge them.

Assumption: “Academic failure is not a function of demographics.”

It may be true that given a fair chance, one demographic group will do as well as another. However, the poor and those from dysfunctional homes are much farther behind the learning curve than are the majority of students.

Are you saying that the for-profit colleges are racist or anti-poor? Or are you saying that they should be able to correct the shortcomings of students who have already fallen behind, in effect that the schools are failing to use methods that would allow these students to succeed and are doing so because they are profit maximizers?

If the latter, then they should be required to make public the effective teaching methods they are not using. Our public high schools and elementary schools could sure use the knowledge.

Assumption: A low graduation rate is a sign that the school is doing a poor job of educating students.

Should good schools not set rigorous standards? I have taught at both Tier I and Tier IV universities. The Tier IV professors that I have studied with tend to be so concerned about their jobs that they allow many students to pass, having only barely mastered the most superficial aspects of the material under study. Should employers be eager to hire graduates from a school known to do this?

Assumption: “The students are holding up their end of the bargain.”

Enrollment does not constitute adequate effort. Your assumption that a substantial majority of students are putting in the required effort is sheer speculation unless you have good data to the contrary.

— David M. Reaume, Camano Island

If our students fail, we inevitably fail

Regarding Lynne Varner’s column about career colleges and universities, we strongly object to the characterization that our institutions are based on “student failure, not success.” It’s simply untrue.

Student achievement is the clearest indicator of our ability to succeed as institutions of learning. If our students are not using the skills they learn with us to lead better lives, find work after graduation and pay off their student loans, we would cease to attract students, and we would not survive.

Do a few bad actors exist? Sure. Just as they do in every sector of education. But the Education Trust report you cite compares apples and oranges; e.g., highly selective institutions populated primarily by upper-income students versus schools that attract primarily nontraditional students — first in their family to attend college, lower-income, working adults, many with children.

Career colleges play a vital role in the Obama administration’s commitment to creating an educated, competitive work force and to regain global leadership in higher education by 2020.

— Harris N. Miller, president, Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, Washington, D.C.; Gena Wikstrom, executive director, Northwest Career Colleges Federation, Redmond.

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