There has been no shortage of misrepresentations about proprietary colleges in the press these days, no doubt due to the approaching deadline for the Department of Education’s final rules on Gainful Employment. A number of parties opposed to proprietary colleges have been working to impact the final ruling, and securing media coverage that supports their agenda is one way to influence how the final regulation shapes up.
Underlying much of the coverage seems to be this misguided concept that all proprietary colleges are created equal, and that they should therefore be equally judged (via an overreaching GE rule) by the bad behaviors and program outcomes of the worst actors in the sector. Yet a closer look at the vast majority of proprietary colleges tells a very different story from the critical tale being spun through the media. APC member Berkeley College is a case in point. Its “story” is a true testament to the strong role that such proprietary colleges have in helping their students excel professionally and in contributing to the economic vitality of the communities in which they operate.
Founded in 1931, Berkeley College has more than 50,000 alumni. The metro New York-based college serves nearly 8,000 students across its locations in New York and New Jersey, as well as through its Online program. U.S. News and World Report in 2014 rated Berkeley among the country’s best colleges for online degrees. It’s accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education to conduct accreditation and pre-accreditation activities for institutions of higher education in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Middle States accredited institutions range from public and private colleges and universities, including the Ivy Leagues.
The College’s mission statement is strong and to the point: To empower students to achieve lifelong success in dynamic careers. Their commitment to delivering on this principle is evident through the caliber of their myriad program offerings, the focus on building learning communities that enhance the student experience through activities such as volunteer service projects in local communities and internships, along with tailored programs to meet the needs of student subgroups. Take, for example, the honors program, designed to ensure that the highest-performing students are provided enhanced academic opportunities.
Berkeley, a member of the National Collegiate Honors Council, offers an interdisciplinary, theme-based Honors Program to a limited number of high-achieving students pursuing Bachelor’s degrees. Participation in the program is on an invitation-only based on recommendations from faculty and advisors. In addition to excelling in their academic programs, Honors Scholars volunteer for service projects in the community, participate in Honors seminars conducted by senior faculty and pursue independent research. Honors scholars must also complete a total of 16 credits of liberal arts or free electives to meet program requirements.
Earlier this month, Berkeley held its inaugural Honors Scholar Research Symposium at its Midtown Manhattan campus, which served as a forum for student scholars to share their work. It culminated a year of study on “Rediscovering New York City,” the theme of the honors program for the 2013-2014 academic year. Program participants had aligned their independent research projects with the theme, choosing study areas such as the history and culture of the city, the growth of the financial district, and the city’s criminal justice system. It’s a comprehensive, rigorous program by any measure that required a considerable commitment of time and resources from the college and students alike.
Berkeley College is equally committed to the success and vitality of the communities in which it serves. Although it only opened its campus in Brooklyn in late 2010, it has already emerged as a vital and enthusiastic advocate for the borough. In addition to opening its campus facilities to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce for its monthly meetings, it has hosted an open house for Brooklyn businesses and has joined 10 other local colleges and universities, including New York University and NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, Pratt Institute, Long Island University, and Saint Francis College, to form the Tech Triangle U consortium. This group works with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership to support economic development in Brooklyn. Indeed, Berkeley played a key role in this year’s inaugural Brooklyn Tech Triangle U Week, which sought to connect local tech and creative companies with the 60,000 students who study and live in downtown Brooklyn.
Clearly, Berkeley serves as a counterpoint to the mythology that proprietary colleges are not delivering strong programs and student outcomes, and that they only care about their own bottom lines. It is just one of the APC member colleges that defies the headlines and debunks the misconceptions every day.