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."
ITTES's determination to treat students as customers results in what it terms "a free enterprise approach to career training." Not surprisingly, ITTES officials are businessmen who discuss their programs in business terms. They see themselves operating in a supply and demand situation, whereby they must meet industry's constantly changing needs. This means regular contact with prospective employers and a system "to review our placement success as methodically as our financial success."
Accountability, cost-benefit, and realtime basis studies all figure into drawing up the constantly changing programs at each ITTES school. ITTES offers courses ranging from air conditioning, architectural engineering, and auto mechanics to computer programming, court reporting, and secretarial skills. Individual courses are drawn up -- and 45 courses were scrapped over the past seven years -- to respond to local availability of jobs.
As part of this constant attempt to match student skills to employer needs, an ITTES survey of its school directors from boston to Seattle uncovered what McClintock sees as a tremendous surge in career switching.
Worried auto workers are signing up in large numbers in Michigan for electronics and technology courses.
Lumber industry workers in Oregon and steel workers in Ohio are training to become draftsmen and data processors.
Women are seeking skills which will free them from traditional roles as home-makers or secretaries -- and enrolling in drafting and electronic engineering courses.
According to the Wilms study:
"Proprietary schools found ways to cut the costs of training with no apparent loss in placement or earnings of their graduates. . . . Though proprietary schools ahd fewer resources than publicly supported schools, they used them more intensively.
Quality education, McClintock argues, "is doing what you say you are going to do --