Public or private: Where should worker training money go?

News-DemocratAugust 31, 2013 

St. Clair County spent more than $1.1 million in federal money to send unemployed residents to for-profit schools where training can cost about four times as much as similar courses offered at a community college.

Fifty-three percent of St. Clair County's money for worker training was spent at private, for-profit schools.

By contrast, Madison County spent about $40,000, or about 10 percent of its money, sending residents to private training schools.

The federal money comes from the federal Workforce Investment Act, which provided the St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department with more than $2 million to pay for training for laid-off and low-income residents to re-enter the workforce in the 2011 program year. The Intergovernmental Grants Department administers the program in St. Clair, Monroe, Washington, Randolph and Clinton counties.

Debra Moore, director of the Intergovernmental Grants Department, said in an email that federal rules require residents participating in the program to choose the school for their training.

Program administrators give final approval to fund the training, according to state rules.

St. Clair County spent about $7,750 per student trained at Vatterott College, which has a campus in Fairview Heights, and about $4,170 per student trained at CALC Institute of Technology, also is in Fairview Heights. The county spent the most federal money at those two for-profit schools, according to state records.

By comparison, the county spent about $1,600 per student at Southwestern Illinois College, a public college based in Belleville.

Representatives with Vatterott College could not be reached for comment after repeated attempts.

Frank Albrecht founded CALC Institute of Technology, based in Alton, about 17 years ago. The school's tuition is lower than other private schools in the metro-east because CALC has always paid attention to tuition rates to ensure they equate to potential employment, Albrecht said.

"Over the years it has taken a lot of time but we did things right," Albrecht said. "There's good, bad and ugly in every industry, but we have taken the upper road to help secure people in employment. We can't guarantee that, but it's something we strive for."

Bill Gagen is the coordinator for SWIC's Selsius program, which helps students in the program and the general public with job searches, resume help and other employment services.

"We think we are the best bang for the buck," Gagen said. "We think students who come here leave prepared and receive a good job. I think it means something to come to SWIC. We have companies who seek out our graduates."

"Our job is to get people working," Gagen said, adding that SWIC was unique in serving as a single point of contact for students within the federal program.

David Stoecklin, the executive director of the federal training program for Madison and Bond counties, said public colleges provide a quality education for students.

"We try to utilize public institutions as much as we can simply because of the cost," Stoecklin said. "We are all paying property taxes to community colleges already so why not take advantage of them? We are very blessed on this side of the river to have quality community colleges providing skill training."

For example, the cost of a two-year associate's degree in welding from SWIC costs about $7,200. In comparison, a 60-week training program in welding at Vatterott College costs about $24,800 -- a difference of $17,500.

Likewise, the total cost of training to become a medical assistant varies widely at local schools: about $6,100 at SWIC, $12,800 at CALC Institute of Technology and $28,000 at Vatterott.

St. Clair County spent more than $2 million in federal money to train residents between July 2011 and June 2012, according to state reports. In comparison, the Madison County based program spent about $388,000 to provide such training. The current program year's expenses were not yet available; local program administrators have until the end of October to report their expenses.

St. Clair County spent more than $364,000 to send 47 students to Vatterott College and $229,000 to send 55 students to CALC Institute of Technology in the 2011 program year for a total of $593,000 for the two schools, according to state records compiled from reports filed by the county.

Vatterott and CALC are the two for-profit schools with the most students participating in the worker training program run by St. Clair County in the 2011 program year. Clients also attended several other for-profit schools in this time period for a total of $512,488. Overall, the program authorized about $1.1 million for residents to attend for-profit schools.

For public or other nonprofit schools, the county spent the most federal money at Southwestern Illinois College and Beck Area Career Center in Red Bud. The county spent about $433,700 to send 267 students to study at SWIC. The county spent about $195,000 at Beck Area Career Center; state reports detailing the number of students sent to Beck were not available.

Clients also attended several other public and nonprofit schools in this time period for a total of about $347,300. Overall, the program authorized about $976,000 for clients to attend public and nonprofit schools.

Moore did not respond to a question asking whether some residents were unable to receive training because of a lack of money.

The program currently has 135 residents on a waiting list in the hopes of receiving training. The county did not provide the number of residents on the wait list during the 2011-12 program year requested by the News-Democrat under the Freedom of Information Act.

Nineteen of those waiting for help are military veterans. A majority of those on the wait list, 75 residents, are seeking help through the county's office in East St. Louis.

All about jobs

Locally administered training programs receiving federal money are expected to meet a set criteria to ensure the money is successful in helping residents enter the workforce.

For example, 86 percent of laid off workers receiving training paid for with federal money through St. Clair County are expected to have a job after their training concludes. St. Clair County has met those expectations since 2011.

Moore said St. Clair County does not have job placement rates per school and she declined to speak on the success of students trained at private schools.

Federally required disclosures show a majority of graduates from Vatterott and CALC are able to find employment after completing training.

For example, 84 percent of students trained as a medical assistant at CALC were employed after completing the program. Three quarters of the students trained in the same field at Vatterott were employed after graduation as well.

CALC's job placement rate stems from a sense of responsibility to offer programs in fields needing more workers, Albrecht said.

"I was 100 percent computer-related training in 1996, then in 2002 started switching to more in the medical area," Albrecht said. "It is just simply paying attention to what's happening in the marketplace. Those trends will go in and out, especially in the metro-east area that has changed dramatically over the years from the loss of manufacturers. That's where (Workforce Investment Act) money has really helped the disadvantaged and dislocated (laid off) workers."

The job placement rate of students attending SWIC was not available because about 30 percent of the college's graduates work in Missouri, where employment data is not available to Illinois colleges. However, Gagen said about 75 percent of the workforce training graduates are employed after getting their degrees or certifications.

A lot of non-traditional students who have been laid off already have the skills necessary to find work but not the degrees, Gagen said.

"If a student lost their job, their life is in transition," Gagen said. "We help make sure they stay on that path. We help them after graduation to get a job as well. We help make them productive members of society. That's why it's called the Workforce Investment Act. It's an investment in people."

Albrecht said CALC was unique in that students are encouraged to take industry-set exams to prove to future employers they have a skill set.

"A lot of schools will offer courses for training but a lot do not map towards preparing people to take industry credentials," Albrecht said. "We always knew employers were looking for a way to certify the skill set of applicants. If a prospective applicant can produce an industry certificate, it helps answer that question for the employer beforehand."

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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