Lisa Wardell, president and chief executive of DeVry Education Group. (Courtesy of DeVry Education Group)

Lisa Wardell, president and chief executive of DeVry Education Group, lays out how for-profit higher education can change the perception of the industry and its value to students. — Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

For-profit higher education has faced major challenges recently as policymakers focus on ensuring that institutions serve their students. Schools have been forced to close their doors, and others are facing increased regulatory and public scrutiny. The higher education sector, and our nation, must find solutions to the increasing workforce skills gap and job displacement caused by the lack of skilled workers. If we are not successful at this task, we will struggle to remain a leader in the global economy.

Higher education is at a pivotal point, and the members of our sector need to demonstrate our value and remove any doubt about our commitment to students. For-profit higher education is an integral part of our diverse education system. For-profit schools should be an active participant in the dialogue around policy solutions because they drive innovation that will revolutionize the entire education sector. Now is the time to create an open dialogue that will ultimately benefit all students, regardless of the institution they attend, and the employers who seek to hire them.

That’s why DeVry Education Group recently announced a set of student commitments that we hope will inspire institutions throughout our industry. For example, we are limiting the amount of funding we accept from federal student aid, including veterans’ benefits and military tuition assistance, to 85 percent of revenue. Currently, the law allows institutions to accept 90 percent of their revenue from Title IV funding alone.

We believe that having a more diverse funding base will help to ensure that we continue to offer high-quality programs that earn student investment over the long term; it also demonstrates that we believe we are offering the programs that employers want their current and potential employees to attend because they will pay tuition for those targeted, tailored programs. In this and other areas, we are committed to holding ourselves to a higher standard.

I took on the role of president and chief executive officer at DeVry Group earlier this year because I believe our institutions are uniquely positioned to serve “new-normal” students, who are now the largest group of college attendees and who need options to pursue their educational goals.

New-normal students juggle full-time jobs, families and other obligations in order to pursue their educational goals, and they typically do so several years after they complete high school. They seek a high-quality education in a subject area that’s in-demand among employers and that offers a flexible schedule to help them navigate busy lives. For-profit institutions have been at the forefront of meeting the needs of these students, driving innovation in online courses, student support and career-focused programs that lead to employment.

While the for-profit sector has been a positive force for disrupting current models of higher education, there is still a need for better information when students are making the decision to attend college and for consistent support throughout their pursuit of a degree. It is critical that students make informed choices and truly understand the financial consequences of any enrollment decision because it’s a big investment. When done correctly, education creates a lifetime of return. To get that benefit, students need to complete their degrees and for-profit institutions must do more to help them.

This focus on quality outcomes is why DeVry recently announced a renewed set of student commitments that set a new standard in our industry. These commitments focus on six key areas:

  • Informed Student Choice: We will ensure students have, on one easy-to-read page, information about the cost of attaining a degree, the debt and default rates, and other data so they can make the best decisions.
  • Responsible Recruitment and Enrollment: Among other steps, we will benchmark and disclose our recruiting expenditures against national standards.
  • Responsible Participation in the Federal Loan Process: Before implementing new degree programs, we will review pricing and outcomes to ensure they’re aligned with students’ ability to repay the debt upon successful completion.
  • Financial Literacy and Academic Transparency: We will give students access to Manage My Loans, and we will provide students with borrowing advisory notices, tools that give them ongoing visibility into overall program progression, outstanding student loan balance, and credits required to graduate. We will also make the Manage My Loans tool available, at no charge, to other colleges that would like to install the tool for use in their financial aid systems.
  • Improving Student Satisfaction: We prohibit the use of mandatory arbitration, and we use an independent third-party tool to conduct student surveys.
  • Successful Student Outcomes and Accountability: We will hire a chief education officer who will report directly to me and will provide counsel about the quality and outcomes of student services.

DeVry has adopted these and other reforms in recent months after meeting with and listening to students, higher-education experts and policymakers. We remain committed to finding solutions today to issues facing higher education now and in the future. Presidential candidates have called for free college. Lawmakers have pressed to help lower student debt. And Massive Open Online Courses are no longer merely an interesting way to learn a new skill, but now are avenues to high-tech degrees and skills for jobs of the future.

Students who complete their degrees and find jobs are far more likely to pay their loans — that’s why we are laser-focused on ideas that improve persistence, graduation and placement. These outcomes should drive all of higher education as we work with policymakers in Washington, D.C., to revamp the system.

As educators, it’s our role to lead — and there’s no reason to believe that for-profit educators can’t continue to positively shape the future. Working together, we can learn from one another and set new standards for higher education. Our students are trusting us to help shape their futures. We can’t let them down.