Not only are four-year universities and two-year community colleges facing financial setbacks; so are many of the vocational and trade schools throughout Southern California and the United States.
This poses yet another diminishing employment opportunity – not only for young adults who feel their time and money would be better spent at a specialized trade school, but also for those students who may be older, who’ve already received college degrees, have been out in the workforce, but need to pursue a degree in a new specialized profession due to lack of employment opportunities in the field they originally received their B.A. in years before.
Two weeks ago, Sahar Sedati was the head community business developer for UEI College – short for United Education Institute. UEI is a vocational school with 15 campus branches located all over California – Riverside, San Bernardino and Anaheim to name a handful, but their highest performing campus is located in Van Nuys, California.
Sedati had held her salary-paying position there for two years at her primary campus in Gardena. Her position involved campus and community outreach where she would travel to various business institutions to recruit students for UEI. But with the downturn in the economy, on top of budget cuts to educational institutions across the board, Sedati saw UEI caving in on itself.
“I saw the tide rushing in months before [the layoff] happened,” Sedati said. “I survived the first five ‘tidal waves’ of layoffs. I honestly didn’t think they’d let me go with my specialized position. I had the most campuses to account for of anyone with my title [of Community Business Developer]. My colleagues had three campuses to be responsible for while I had five.”
Sedati said UEI, like many other vocational and trade schools, has had to cut a number of programs due to a lack of state support and student funding. However, there are multiple factors that account for UEI’s particularly devastating situation.
After a government mandate was implemented that required accredited educational and skills specialization institutions reach a quota of 70 percent job placement, those institutions that could not guarantee, or help students land, jobs upon their program’s completion were penalized. This means that every vocational and trade school who did not meet a 70 percent success rate for students to become tradesmen with their program certificate were put on probation.
Bill Sutton was also a community business developer for UEI’s San Diego campus before he was laid off in September.
“We were told in the letter from the accrediting body that we could only enroll a total of 400 students for all 15 campuses until January of 2013,” Sutton said. “That’s when the money started to stop coming in and I guess they decided they didn’t need my services.”
Sutton said that the most popular program of medical assisting had to be cut all together. “There are too many program graduates with certificates and very few of them are able to land jobs because the economy has shrunk,” he said.
Another factor posing a problem for UEI involves the restrictions and outright inability for many students to receive Federal Title IV funding – or more specifically, Pell Grants.
How this affects UEI, and vocational and trade schools in particular, is that after July 1st of this year, individuals who are trying to go to trade school cannot get student loans if they have not earned their GED or high school diploma. Normally, anyone with any level of education can attend a trade or vocational school. There are only two programs that require the student have a diploma or GED and those are for pharmaceutical technicians and criminal justice.
UEI’s Gardena branch confirmed that they have limited availability for their medical assistants programs, but declined to comment on the reasoning and on UEI’s present probationary status.
So what does this mean for students?
Adults of all ages rely on trade and vocational educational facilities to provide more skills and a direct level of access or point of entry into the job market of their dreams and at an accelerated rate of sometimes only six months of academic instruction.
Some of these adults have had to go to vocational school multiple times throughout their career, like 56-year-old Maureen Kohatsu.
“Every time I’ve had to change career paths for medical reasons, I’ve gone to SCROC [the Southern California Regional Occupational Center],” Kohatsu said. “Dental assisting and then medical transcription. It’d be terrible if they cut these programs completely. Or worse yet, eliminated the vocational school altogether.”