Leaders of Utah's private career preparation schools praised Congress for passing a measure that will require higher education institutions to release graduation rates.

Publication of the information will allow students looking forward to a higher education experience to make a more informed choice, said Dixon Merrill, head of Utah Skills 2000, a coalition of education, business, community and political leaders.Private career schools are currently the only postsecondary institutions that provide consumer information, Merrill said, including placement and retention rates. The congressional action requiring similar data from other institutions is "a step in the right direction. It will give students a better idea about their prospects for graduating."

Students in private career schools are more likely to complete their courses of study than students in other post-secondary settings, he said. Sixty-one percent of those in private schools complete their training, compared with 58 percent in four-year colleges; 43 percent in community colleges and 33 percent in Job Corps programs.

"And in Utah, we do even better than the national average," Merrill said. Among the state's 32 private career schools, the completion rate is 77 percent, compared to 45 percent in the community colleges.

Some college officials fear Congress might use the graduation-rate data to restrict eligibility for federal student aid programs. High student loan default rates are causing congress to take a second look at such programs.

Default rates may reflect more on the population served than on the quality of programs. Low income students are more likely to default on loans regardless of the institution they attend, according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Course completion rates are a more accurate indicator of the quality of programs, the article said.

Graduation rates are not the only criterion for judging an institution's quality, but students should have access to this and other kinds of consumer information to help them make informed decisions, Merrill said.

Utah Skills 2000 hopes to raise awareness of the important role of private career schools in educating and training America's work force. The organization also will work to preserve access to federal financial aid for students who attend these schools.