Caleb Everett said he has put $1 million into Career College of California and taken no salary since his Fortuna Education LLC bought it in 2010.
The 15-year veteran private equity executive “wanted to grow something from the ground up and build an organization.”
Career College of California offers entree to office jobs in the medical and paralegal fields, as well as general business training, with a new accounting track launched in October.
It was founded in 2001, holding classes in 600 square feet at an industrial park off of Dyer Road when Everett bought it nine years later.
He moved it to downtown Santa Ana—it’s on the second floor above the 4th Street Market that’ll open early next year—and most students live within five miles of the building.
The school grew from 10 to 135 students in Everett’s first two years at the helm of the school, where tuition is $8,500 to $18,400. Growth leveled off in the past two years—collateral fallout from recent turmoil over for-profit colleges’ costs, recruiting practices, and job placement rates.
Santa Ana-based Corinthian Colleges Inc. is a prime example of the recent problems—it’s in the process of shutting down over alleged missteps on recruiting and low placement rates.
Other operators face a federal “gainful employment” rule that would require for-profit colleges to meet stricter student debt-to-pay ratios to receive federal financial aid.
That’s put a chill in the market even for Career College of California, which has bucked the trend with some extra effort.
“People are afraid to enroll,” Everett said. “You have to become an evangelist for what’s possible.”
The college also helps prepare students for an ever-changing economy that’s been in recovery for several years.
Fifteen to 20 students graduate from California Career College each month; 80% find a job within a year, Everett said.
The rate exceeds the 70% required by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, the school’s accrediting body, and one year is a standard timeline for state and federal rules.
Jobs must be related to degrees students earn, and they have to keep those jobs at least 30 days, Everett said.
“I don’t think we’ll have a problem” with the new rules, he said. “Our programs are short, and our placement rates are high.”
Training and Vocation
He supports the idea of linking training and vocational at all schools—for-profit and nonprofits such as community colleges—to jobs.
“It’s healthy to connect [programs] to placement rates,” he said.
A second major element of the proposed new rule involves debt: Are students earning enough relative to what they owe?
Thirty percent of graduates leave the school debt-free, he said.
Some students are military veterans on the GI Bill; others pay for school through a federal works program administered by the city of Santa Ana.
Everett said the school also wants to keep tuition low.
“We price our programs in a way that allows students to pay for it,” he said. “I want to drive our tuition down.”
Programs are about nine months long with seven to eight four-week classes and a one-month externship.
Students attend class five days a week, five hours a day; 85% complete their studies and graduate, Everett said.
The teaching at Career College of California taps a trend taking shape as businesses begin to hire again after the recession.
Vocational schools, community colleges, and websites are connecting education more directly to employment for industries including manufacturing, technology, construction, retail sales, and restaurants, according to reports.
Newport Beach nonprofit OC Forward, for example, teaches technology and marketing to jobseekers at five sites, and an employment website called Jobrivet launched in June to prepare—and prequalify—employees for restaurant and retail jobs.
Everett’s students are high school graduates for whom a four-year degree doesn’t make sense for now.
“College is not the right path for every student,” he said.
He does not plan to change the school’s status, because being a for-profit with one owner means he controls its vision. The school stays “small and nimble,” and the for-profit focus keeps it accountable.
Everett counts on the school’s reputation and successful graduates to foster growth. He takes time to meet with counselors at local high schools, who provide opportunities to speak with students.
“If we do a good job, and they get a good education, and then they do a good job, we’ll make a fair income,” he said.
Everett estimated his current 15,000-square-foot location could handle 300 students.
He’s also started to look at online learning, a certificate program, seminars and training at an employer’s site or covering a particular profession, and bringing in executives to speak with students.
“I’ve absolutely fallen in love with what we do,” he said. “The product is the improvement in real people’s lives by delivering a good education.”