America's 9,000 private business and technical schools now enroll some 1 million students -- ranging from inner-city dropouts to job-hunting PhDs. It is an industry that has been criticized by many in higher education as being too much concerned with profits and too little concerned with the welfare of its students. But while some less-scrupulous operators still emerge wiht it from time to time, vocational-technical schools, a still -growing $3 billion-a-year industry, also have drawn the interest of such big-name companies as International Telephone & Telegraph Corporation (ITT), Control Data Corporation, Bell & Howell Company, MacMillan company, and McGraw-Hill Inc.
In a study released in June, Wellford Wilms of the Graduate School of Education of the University of California at Los Angeles concluded that this growing network of for-profit trade schools is consistently outperforming public vocational schools "because proprietary school programs appear better attuned to changing student and labor market needs."
One surprising fact investigated in the Wilms report is that today's students tend to prefer the private schools over the public ones -- even when this means paying $3,000 for tuition compared with as little as nothing for tuition in some public schools.
According to Mr. Wilms, students have become intelligent consumers who realize that their major educational expense is the income they miss out on until they get a job. The Wilms survey indicates that the for-profit schools both cut training time in half and tend to have effective placement programs which lead to jobs for most graduates.
Richard McClintock, president of ITT Educational Services (ITTES) in Indianapolis, was interested enough in such findings to survey students in ITTES's network of 23 schools. Students in replied, he says, that "We're happy to pay $3,000 because we know you'll get us into the employment field we are seeking, and because you treat us as individuals."