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A For-profit about-face: Colorado college changes tts name to reflect deep changes

The following article is from the Denver Business Journal

When Zenith Education Group acquired three Everest College campuses from Corinthian Colleges Inc. in February 2015, a rough road lay ahead.

Its mission: Convert what was formerly a for-profit institution focused on shareholder returns to a nonprofit focused on student outcomes.

Much of the change was immediate, including reducing tuition by 20 percent, with the average student experiencing a decrease of $2,800, and changing the institute to 501(c)(3) status. Other goals, such as establishing a more individualized admissions process and providing career placement counseling, have taken a bit more time.

Now, Colorado's Everest College two campuses will change their names to Altierus Career College, something Executive Director Carissa Seger said more accurately represents the Zenith model. Everest now has two Colorado campuses after the Aurora and Thornton campus were consolidated to Thornton last year.

For-profit universities in recent years have come under fire by activists who say they target students who qualify for the maximum amount of student aid and tend to be 30 to 40 percent more expensive than nonprofit institutions. Students at for-profit universities often drop out before completing their degree, according to author Tressie McMillan Cottom in her book Lower Ed.

"In becoming a nonprofit, our business model is fundamentally different than Corinthian," Seger said. " We're really focused on our mission to help students succeed, we're not focused on shareholder return like Corinthian Colleges was."

The Everest campus's Altierus Career College is a culmination of that shift, Seger said.

"Altierus" is a combination of three words:

* "Alternative pathways," to represent the college's focus on offering students hands-on experience;

* "Tier," to represent the college's message that is "above existing models;" and

* "Us," to represent the college community of students and faculty, as well as businesses.

"We are investing in students, surrounding them with the career guidance, education and day-to-day support that makes a difference in their succes," she said.

Since 2014, retention rates at the Thornton campus are up by 16 percent. Graduation rates are up 18 percent since 2014.

Seger said Altierus staff implemented program advisory committee meetings in which employers tour the facility and classrooms and then work with staff to update curriculum.

Plus, Seger added, Altierus is a 100 percent career-focused university, offering mostly classes that are specific to a student's prospective career pathway, rather than general education courses.

"The programs we offer are hands-on academic programs that ... will be needed directly for their job," Seger said.

Students also participate in "externships," during their final year of coursework, where they work for area businesses, something Seger said often results in a job upon graduating. For the calendar year from July 2016 to July 2017, 78 percent of students at the Thornton campus have been placed with a company, she said.

"Our career services department is getting a lot of calls. We have more employers calling with job opportunities than we have students to fill those jobs," Seger said.

One reason for that is also the college's enrollment numbers. According to Community College Review, Everest College-Colorado Springs serves about 330 students, while the Thornton campus serves about 450 students.

"That's because we've prioritized outcomes over enrollment," Seger said, adding that she expects the student population to increase as Altierus continues to "show what we can offer students."

Altierus offers programs in healthcare, like dental and medical administrative assistants, and computer information technology, as well as electrical technician and similar certifications and business degrees.

"Our goal is to put students first. We've created a holistic admissions process to help our prospective students for a career. We're not just trying to take every student and put them in the seat," she said.

Zenith, an affiliate of ECMC Group Inc., is one of the largest nonprofit career college systems in the U.S.

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