I agree on the need to focus on ensuring America’s workforce has the skills and training necessary to excel in the job market. And I can proudly say private sector colleges and universities are leading the way in giving more students – particularly non-traditional ones – the tools they need to compete for and obtain good-paying jobs.
Private sector colleges and universities have demonstrated a unique capability to confront the challenges of educating America’s middle class. We have been at the forefront of the effort to close the skills gap by offering career-focused training aiding business owners seeking workers with specific training and expertise. We have made it our mission to close this gap and are working every day to achieve that end.
Today, career-focused schools play a pivotal role in rebuilding our country’s backbone, which is working families, by annually educating over four million students. We are helping veterans, adults and parents obtain the skills they need to become dental assistants, culinary specialists, veterinary technicians, diagnostic medical sonographers, and many other of the fastest growing professions. These are real, valued occupations that require knowledge and proficiency in a specific field.
The truth is our schools are actively engaged in meeting President Obama’s mission to re-commit ourselves to the rebirth of the middle class.  And we are accomplishing it by increasing access to postsecondary education. To date, 64 percent of career-oriented schools’ students are Pell Grant recipients, 67 percent are 25 years of age or older, 31 percent are single parents and 76 percent are independent of their parents. Between 2008 and 2012, private sector colleges and universities conferred 1.5 million degrees and 1.85 million certificates.
Private sector colleges and universities are able to accommodate the needs of non-traditional students in ways that traditional four year universities cannot. Whether its veterans’ transitioning from war zones to the workplace or single parents with family responsibilities seeking a way to earn more for the future, career-oriented schools understand the rigorous demands that these individuals face and tailor course schedules, offer focused curriculum and provide academic delivery mechanisms that fit their needs. We are also investing in our students and expanding facilities to meet the growing demand for higher education, which includes returning veterans, their spouses and families, 325,000 of which attend our schools.
President Obama has made it his goal to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. In the 21st century workforce, there will be 55 million new jobs, 85 percent of which will require higher education. This means private sector schools must continue to be a central component of the higher education solution and I am proud to say that we are up to the task.
We share President Obama’s commitment and passion for education, and look forward to working with him to ensure that all Americans can attain the skills they need to access meaningful opportunities. The students the president is counting on to work and make our middle class stronger can be found in our colleges and universities. We take seriously the charge to prepare America’s students to succeed in the workforce. Private sector schools look forward to the challenge of moving our nation’s economy forward and will work with President Obama and his administration to build a durable middle class.
Former Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.) is president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.