09/18/2012 02:50 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2012

Value Proposition of Higher Education

There has been a lot of debate recently around the value proposition of proprietary higher education institutions. Across this country, thousands of people are exercising their right to decide what the best educational opportunity is for their specific circumstances. What school will give them the best return on this very important investment? And what is the difference between attending a proprietary vs. a public school?

It is time to shift the focus of the current debate from the ownership structure of schools to how our nation can lead the world in having the most trained and most educated workforce. Let's find a way to really measure success and the value proposition for student success. A good place to begin is to consider the standards a person can use for higher education overall. There are four key factors: graduation rates, how many graduates are able to secure jobs in their field of study, lifetime earnings of alumni and licensure and certification success.

When we look at the above criteria, we also need to factor in the student populations that colleges serve. Results should be weighted to take into account factors like a college's proportion of students from underserved populations. Once a formula and tracking mechanisms are in place, we can then begin to gauge whether colleges are producing graduates who are able to successfully enter the workforce and obtain the necessary licensures and certification that allow them to thrive in their chosen fields. As time goes on, we'll be able to track their earnings throughout their careers and see the impact that their education truly made on the lifetime of their careers.

At my school, a nationally known and respected institution, one way we provide a valuable experience for students -- a return on their investment in us -- is to invest in our facilities and equipment. We return more than half of every dollar of revenue back into our school to provide our students with the best resources and the experience they need to succeed in today's competitive global workforce.

We realize that our success is inherently tied to that of our students and alumni. In fact, as part of a for-profit education system, the interests of our investors are aligned with those of our students. That is why we have had the luxury of being able to continue investing in our school despite the challenging economy.

And our investment in our students is also important to our community. Throughout the country companies look at a wide variety of factors when they make decisions about where to locate and relocate their facilities. A public radio broadcast earlier this summer examined how the company Roche decided to relocate its New Jersey facility. This decision was based on a number of factors, including proximity to cutting-edge research facilities and access to an educated workforce. With cuts to state higher education facilities, quality of training in those communities is impacted and businesses realize that will affect them long-term.

As president of The Art Institute of Colorado, I am proud to provide all of my students -- including those in an underserved population -- with access to education. When we all start measuring our success by factoring graduation rates, job placement rates, lifetime earnings and licensure and graduation success, we will start to see an accurate picture of the overall value and how individual institutions stack up. By taking a holistic look at the four standards we can continue to improve the value proposition for our students and measure the real return our nation gets by investing in students.