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Takeaways from My First CECU Event

Just several weeks into my new role at Storylift, I headed down to New Orleans with two of my colleagues to my first CECU (Career Education Colleges and Universities) Annual Convention and Expo. Everything in this industry is new to me, so while I’m deeply focused on learning our technology and developing programs to promote our solutions, I jumped at the chance to spend two days hearing from leaders in the professional education sector and learning more about the competitive landscape.

From a marketing perspective, I enjoyed speaking with digital agencies and lead management companies who specialize in the for-profit educational sector. The nuances of creating messaging that targets a specific demographic is what Storylift does best, so by asking a mountain of questions to patient exhibitors hosting their booths, I gained a new perspective on how some marketing solution providers are addressing the challenges of reaching audiences in various regions of the country from all walks of life.

Data-Driven Vendors

As someone coming from the data sector where I spent much of my time talking about machine learning, AI, and natural language processing, I was immediately drawn to vendors such as ChatDrive, CareerConext, Verity, and Data Verum. ChatDrive is using an interesting mix of AI and real human enrollment counselors (chatters) to engage prospective students at an elevated level of personalized contact. ChatDrive’s Chief Strategy Officer, Tares Figueroa, gave me a succinct explanation of what they do: “Our approach drives a higher level of enrollment leads and maintains the human side of education that other aspects of our industry have forgotten.”  He further explains, “We develop custom-made solutions that succeed thanks to strong partnerships and our analytics-driven methodology. This approach allows us to empower schools to meet the unique needs of their students.”

These creative services, software, and products will continue to rapidly evolve to improve many of the challenges in our industry such as finding and identifying candidates, streamlining the enrollment process, and keeping curriculum engaging and relevant.

CECU Highlights Rapid Change Driving Job Creation

In other disciplines and industries, such as medical support and manufacturing, we see the changes in technology driving the creation of jobs at an astounding pace. As manufacturing trends expert Carolyn Lee points out, “The World Economic Forum estimates that we could lose 75 million workers to automation by 2022, but we could also create 133 million jobs over the same period if workers are given significant reskilling and the next generation of workers is trained properly.”

Healthcare career trends expert Dr. Sheldon Fields also spoke about the challenges of filling jobs in the nursing sector. In his article from The Hill, he wrote:

“Nursing schools aren’t producing nearly enough graduates to provide the 1.2 million new nurses our nation will need by 2030. A lack of faculty, classroom space, and other resources forced nursing schools to turn away more than 64,000 qualified applicants in the 2016-17 academic year.”

These are just two examples of industries that need more trained workers. These potential employees will look to qualified for-profit schools to advance in their career. I found it exciting to see compelling data that supports the need for these educational institutions and the desire for a burgeoning workforce to gain new, more specialized skills. However, challenges lie ahead. As various speakers at the CECU event addressed, the increasing push of the anti-90/10 rule movement looks to put untenable pressure on the for-profit education industry.

The Greatest Challenge the Industry Has Faced

In some ways, this is nothing new. The for-profit education and training industry has long faced intense scrutiny and opposition from various political groups and policymakers, but this year several states have drastically increased the number of proposed legislative acts that pose various threats to these educational institutions.

This pressure comes from alleged abuses of the 90/10 rule that requires these schools to achieve 10% of their revenue from private sources in order to be eligible for tuition payments from various government funding programs. As with any industry, there are good and bad apples, but a common message at CECU was that implementing broad, sweeping changes to stop the fraudulent and dishonest practices of a small group should not come at the cost of sacrificing legitimate training and educational services that benefit a significant segment of the population.

“The conversation should be framed around productive reform, not wide-ranging punitive or retaliatory legislation.”

As various speakers at CECU affirmed, even as both sides of the argument defend their positions one thing is certain: many veterans and former military personnel are hardworking, motivated individuals who seek additional education and training after leaving the service. A large number of them find the training they’re looking for in for-profit educational institutions. Adding thoughtless restriction and regulation on education funding for this venerable group of servicemen and servicewomen could have a significant impact on the US workforce and economy—not to mention morale. The conversation should be framed around productive reform, not wide-ranging punitive or retaliatory legislation.

As Keynote Speaker Congresswoman Dr. Virginia Fox stated in her opening presentation:

“Every member of Congress has a small business or a large business in his or her history that is scrambling to fill a box. Every single one of us. I talked with five people today who come in and say, ‘I have jobs. I can’t fill them because I cannot find the people with the skills.’ It makes no sense to lock down a segment of the education community that can provide the people with the skills they need to complete the jobs.”

‍‍Poised for Growth

This was quite an introduction to the industry and marked my first month working in my new role as VP of Marketing at Storylift. I admittedly have so much to learn on various levels of this industry, but despite lacking a deep familiarity and understanding of the business, I could easily feel the passion and consummate professionalism of the attendees at CECU. From what I see, the for-profit education industry is poised for an amazing stage of growth. Despite opposition from certain lawmakers, it’s important to keep driving innovation and delivering superb training and education to servicemen and servicewomen, civilians, and whoever values education and career improvement. See you at the next event!

— Jonathan Cramer