COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | LARRY STIRLING

Dr. Chigos and the 'gainful-employment' rule

When Navy Lt. Cmdr. David Chigos retired, he tried to enroll at San Diego State University. Since he was working full-time during the day, he sought night classes.

Silly him ... thinking that publically-employed academics might teach at night to accommodate working adults.

It is hard enough to get them to teach during the day.

Mr. Chigos must have been fuming as they laughed him out of the registrar's office.

The experience helped Dave Chigos recognize that the public schools were failing to serve employed adults who worked all day and could only go to school at night.

The result of his frustration and then foresight and energy is the now widely recognized "National University" an institution that he started "out of the trunk of my car."

Chigos and his team identified several impediments to reasonably-priced degrees.

Public university students are inured to the inveterate unresponsiveness of tenured, unionized and prickly faculties that require certain classes be taken while at the same time not providing enough of such classes to allow a perspicacious student to graduate timely.

Gone is the notion of a four-year degree because the faculty is just too durned busy to be bothered teaching the necessary hours to allow the enrollees to acquire 15 units a semester.

Chigos and his National University team instead arranged to have student registrations drive faculty decisions, not the other way around. When enough students needed a class in freshman English, an instructor was hired and the class provided.

To keep costs down and maintain maximum flexibility, there were no tenured faculty members. Instructors, who were working adults themselves, were hired based on the fact that they were qualified to teach the class.

Since they had other jobs, they did not need expensive benefits.

Quality control was maintained by having the students evaluate the instructors at the end of each teaching period. Lousy teachers were simply not hired back.

National University was decades ahead in applying computers to their administration further reducing overhead and pioneering "distance learning" throughout the world.

The N.U. template became a nearly overnight success spawning dozens of copy cats like Phoenix University, but meanwhile sending shock waves through the traditional schools.

About the same time, a group of investors realized that the existing law schools suffered from the same insular laziness as the big public universities.

So they started the Western States College of Law to serve working adults, such as myself, at night.

They kept costs affordable by hiring actual lawyers to teach instead of full-time faculty. Western States quickly became the largest law school in California.

Were these two innovative institutions lauded for democratizing education and cutting costs? Nope.

Instead, National University was set upon by the educational establishment led by USD President Author Hughes.

The henchman for the educational establishment is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and their hatchet of choice is to withhold accreditation and thereby cut off student access to federal school loans.

In the case of Western States School of Law, the apex man was the American Bar Association.

How dare the school use lawyers to teach law? How dare they rely on the public law library and the internet for access to legal resources?

To gain accreditation, WSC had to hire a full-time faculty of mostly liberals and establish a large, expensive library thus raising costs while making them less competitive, the real agenda for the accrediting agencies.

Done and done. Student costs rose substantially: a cost initially borne by the taxpayers via student loans and later by the students being burdened with larger debts.

However, the harassment of National University and WSC did not stop the creation of the manifestly superior private post-secondary educational market.

Students and parents came to recognize that public universities specialized in providing little more at the end of six year's education than young, liberal unemployable social workers, oh, and a huge debt hangover.

As a result students flocked to the private-schools knowing that upon graduation they would likely be employable.

From 2000 to 2008, enrollment in private post-secondary schools ballooned to 1.8 million.

So many students have abandoned the public higher education system that a full panic has overtaken the traditional schools.

So they have called on the federal government to simply crush the competition with a proposed "gainful-employment" rule, a rule which no public higher education institution, especially SDSU, could ever meet. (See: www.mycareercounts.org for more information).

If the graduates of the private schools don't pay back their loans within a stipulated period of time (something the school itself has no control over), the school whence they graduated will be cut off from federal loan eligibility.

The Secretary of Education claims that private students, obtaining employable skills are "less versatile" and the success of the schools may result in an "oversupply" of certain classifications of employees such as nurses.

I happen to know that the Department of Labor does not keep track of vacant jobs of which there are many millions in this nation. I also find it ludicrous that the Secretary of Education would attack the schools for their success and claim "oversupply."

The "gainful employment" rule is nothing more than the public entities trying to suppress successful competition.

Dr. Chigos and the WSC founders would understand.


Stirling, a former U.S. Army officer, has been elected to the San Diego City Council, state Assembly and state Senate. He also served as a municipal and superior court judge in San Diego. Send comments to larry.stirling@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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Janet H Shelton 7:59pm January 11, 2015

I started working at National University in Oct. 1978, thanks to Dr. David Chigos, who just happened to be at the Vista, Ca campus that night at a Chamber meeting I was attending. Dr. Chigos said, "If she wants a job, give her one." I became an academic counselor, then a financial aid counselor. Then, almost immediately I enrolled in a BBA program, I graduated in Oct. 1981. I worked at National until August of 1983. My daughter, Andra, age 17 yr at the time; also worked there as a receptionist. I loved working at National and being able to earn my degree. It was a very good education. It served me well. Dr. Chigos was a real delight to work for. I moved to New Mexico in Dec. of 1983 and still live here. I retired from UNM Press in 2003. I have enjoyed lots of blessings and NU helped a bunch. Janet H. Shelton Rio Rancho NM