Midway through the first presidential debate, moderator Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News asked the presidential candidates about “America’s direction.” He proposed the candidates start “by talking about race.”
Holt noted that the share of Americans who believe that race relations are bad in this country is the highest it has been in decades. He then pointedly asked how each candidate would “heal the divide.”
In the wake of Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and now Charlotte, both Trump and Clinton understandably answered with their differing views about policing. But neither talked about education and jobs in relation to healing the race divide.
In the second presidential debate the candidates occasionally mentioned the topic of race, but again neither offered real ideas for increasing employment opportunities for African Americans.
The bureaucrats in the Department of Education are waging a war to destroy the very schools we need to equip our most vulnerable communities for a successful economic future.
So as we head into the final weeks of the election at a time when the unemployment rate for young black Americans is 32 percent, compared with only 13.6 percent for white youth, candidates at every level owe it to the country to address this glaring omission.
Nobody can possibly doubt that the unrest in so many of our cities is fueled in part by the frustration that comes with limited work opportunities for African-Americans. And nobody should doubt that healing the race divide must include plans that grow meaningful work opportunities for African-Americans and provide access to the education and training needed to seize these opportunities.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education has widened the race divide in this country, most recently by deliberately forcing the bankruptcy of the ITT Technical Institute career schools. In addition to 8,000 employees losing their jobs, the Department of Education’s action meant that ITT’s 40,000 students suddenly had their career plans turned upside down with no school to attend.
Since approximately 30 percent of all career education students are African-Americans, ITT’s forced closure delivered a devastating blow on the high-unemployment African-American population that is most in need of skills-based education that provides a path to a good job in today’s modern economy--exactly what ITT and other career schools have offered.
The Department’s closure of the 137 ITT-Tech campuses has only accelerated the endgame of what the Washington Post has called the Department of Education’s “ideological crusade” to kill for-profit career schools.
A few days after ITT’s forced closure, the Education Department doubled down on its cold, bureaucratic answer to how we heal the race divide by revoking recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the main accreditor of for-profit career schools. This means that 600,000 students across the country, including approximately 200,000 African-Americans, are now at risk of dramatic disruption in their career plans if the Department of Education does not allow their schools sufficient time to get a new accreditor.
So the same month that Charlotte erupted in violence, the Department of Education was actively killing hope for those most in need of it in vulnerable communities all across America--especially in African-American communities.
Career schools – most of them multi-generational local educational businesses – offer hope to millions of African-American and other students by providing the accelerated, focused academic programming that often produces graduates ready for work in two years or less. According to the Department of Education’s own statistics, these schools have a completion rate of 67 percent in their two-year career programs -- far greater than any other sector of higher education.
But the Department of Education’s war against career colleges continues and has real collateral damage; in this case it is the African-American and other students enrolled in these schools. The casualty toll is high and mounting.
In 2010, our nation’s career colleges enrolled 1.7 million students in undergraduate programs ranging from certificates to 4-year degrees. Each year since, enrollment has declined by approximately 100,000 students, to 1.2 million in 2014. If 30 percent of those students who are no longer in school are African-American, we have put 500,000 young African-American men and women on the street over the last six years with no degree and no skill. And these numbers don’t include the casualties that will have been suffered this year.
Like every sector of higher education, career schools have their challenges. But never before have we bulldozed over the lives of tens of thousands of African-American and other students to address the errors of an individual school.
Both Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton, and the parties they lead, have rightly urged that our higher education system must offer paths to good jobs that don’t require a traditional four-year academic degree.
But the bureaucrats in the Department of Education are waging a war to destroy the very schools we need to equip our most vulnerable communities for a successful economic future.
So if the Republicans and Democrats really mean what they say, leaders in both parties should immediately call for and put a stop to the crusade being waged by the Department of Education that treats so many African-American and other students as acceptable collateral damage in service of its extreme ideological goals.
Steve Gunderson is President & CEO of Career Education Colleges & Universities.
Dalphna Curtis is a leader with Women Voters Alliance and Black Vote Advisors.