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Create jobs – or create more graduates for existing jobs?

On the presidential campaign trail, Obama and Romney debate job creation when the easier path is tooling up graduates of higher education for jobs that already exist. But a political divide deters even that solution.

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, releases a Senate Democratic report Monday asserting that for-profit schools often hit vulnerable students with exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, and abysmal student outcomes.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

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In the US presidential contest, job creation is issue No. 1. But there’s a flip side to this debate: Which party would be better at creating enough school graduates who can qualify for the millions of jobs now vacant in growing industries such as high tech?

Democrats prefer giving a boost to community colleges and other traditional higher ed as a way to overcome this “skills gap” among workers and recent graduates. Republicans want a level playing field for all schools, whether they be public, private nonprofit, or for profit.

The debate isn’t playing out on the campaign trail, but it’s big in Washington where well-monied lobbies for the competing camps in higher ed are very powerful on Capitol Hill.

The latest battle is a report released this week on problems in for-profit higher ed. It was led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The panel’s two-year probe looks at the high dropout rate at for-profit schools and the high burden in student loans for their graduates who fail to find jobs in their chosen fields. The findings reinforce the Obama administration’s efforts to tightly regulate the nondegree-granting programs at both for-profit and nonprofit institutions.

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