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Trade School Students at Risk

Collapse of compromise threatens to end state oversight

June 22, 1997

Unless Sacramento takes action this week, the state oversight body that cleaned up the reputation of California's trade schools will be forced to shut down for lack of funding.

That would be a mistake, leaving the state without trade school oversight at the very time it's most needed. The schools are now multiplying statewide in anticipation of demand resulting from federally funded welfare-to-work programs that promote vocational training. After a similar boom in the 1980s, California was singled out for notorious diploma mills that churned out degrees with minimal standards; "phantom" institutions charged students in advance for courses and then absconded with the money. The state's oversight body, the Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education, was created in 1989 to address these problems.

Early last week, the council's future seemed nearly secure. Backers of AB 71, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Roderick Wright (D-Los Angeles) that would extend its funding, had been successfully working with trade school representatives to address schools' complaints that they were burdened with over-regulation. A sensible compromise was reached to reduce paperwork and give financial breaks to trade schools that had not "substantially" violated state laws.

Late last week, however, with the bill on track for passage, trade school representatives demanded that it be rewritten from scratch. Wright asked to extend funding for six months, but that compromise was rejected by staffers for Gov. Pete Wilson and trade school officials. The key to resolving this mess lies with Wilson.

Proper state oversight of trade schools is essential not only to protect California's academic reputation but to preserve a credible tool for implementing welfare-to-work laws. The governor should agree to Wright's six-month extension and work with the Legislature to strike a compromise.

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