Hire Education: An Affordable College That Sets the Standard for Career Training

By Glass, Stephen | Policy Review, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

Hire Education: An Affordable College That Sets the Standard for Career Training


Glass, Stephen, Policy Review


Speaking in Galesburg, Illinois, in January, President Clinton proposed a federally funded job-training program "to keep the American Dream alive in the 21st century." Cost to American taxpayers: $3.5 billion a year.

If he had driven about an hour north, Clinton could have visited a college campus that proves his program is unnecessary. DeVry Institute of Technology, headquartered in Oakbrook, Illinois, makes a handsome profit by offering a first-rate technical education to working-class students. This little-known school shows how private businesses outperform government in providing good job training.

On 13 campuses from Atlanta to Los Angeles, more than 15,000 students--35 percent of whom are black or Latino--are earning their bachelor's of science degrees at DeVry. Ninety-four percent of the school's graduates land jobs in their fields of study within six months, with an average starting salary exceeding $24,000 a year.

DeVry's alumni enjoy cutting-edge technical careers. At Hughes Communications, the nation's largest satellite company, 22 of the 30 engineers responsible for orbit maintenance are DeVry graduates. KLA Instruments, which designs quality-control systems for the manufacture of microchips, boasts that a fifth of its 1,000 employees graduated from DeVry. All this at an annual cost per student of $2,500 less than similar staterun programs.

And DeVry posted a $12-million profit on revenues of $211 million last year to boot.

SELLING JOB OPPORTUNITY

Since its founding in 1931 by Herman DeVry, the inventor of the portable motion-picture projector, the institute has specialized in technical training that leads to lucrative careers. DeVry, which grants accredited bachelor's degrees, is a for-profit venture whose stock trades on the NASDAQ exchange. In short, it sells job opportunity.

Five years ago, when Zaneta Rizzo graduated from a small high school in rural Louisiana, she "knew less than nothing" about computers, thought DOS was pronounced "dose," and was terrified of automatic-teller machines.

After two years of bouncing among jobs in fast-food restaurants, Rizzo enrolled at DeVry's Dallas campus. Recently she graduated with a bachelor's degree in computer information systems and is deciding between several job offers with computer-training firms. Before DeVry, Rizzo's salary peaked at $760 a month. Her current offers are for $25,000 a year--a 275 percent pay hike.

When Jeri Gomez graduated from high school near Fresno, California, she enrolled in a local community college to study the health sciences and dance, but classes were constantly being canceled, so she enlisted in the army. After serving in Desert Storm, Gomez enrolled at DeVry's Pomona campus. She is now deciding among several job offers in software programming that pay more than $30,000 a year.

Rizzo's and Gomez's stories are typical of DeVry students, many of whom field multiple job offers before their commencement. In fact, more than 95 percent of engineering and accounting majors are placed in their fields within six months of graduation--a success rate many of the nation's top schools never approach. How does DeVry do it? By running the college like a business.

Unlike most colleges, DeVry receives no direct government money or alumni gifts. Nearly all revenues, and therefore profits, come from tuition. And DeVry has found that the best way to attract more students--over half of whom are the first in their families to attend college--is to secure high-paying jobs for graduates. Dennis Keller, DeVry's chief executive officer, says the school avoids anything that doesn't help students find careers.

To this end, DeVry maintains an enormous placement system with more than 100 staffers and a database of thousands of employers. While most other schools in the country assign placement officers to handle a broad spectrum of careers, DeVry has found that employers prefer to communicate with staffers who understand their particular needs.

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