Home Associations & Accreditations New Midwest Advocacy Network aims to Promote Interests, Successes of Private Schools
New Midwest Advocacy Network aims to Promote Interests, Successes of Private Schools

New Midwest Advocacy Network aims to Promote Interests, Successes of Private Schools


Jeri Prochaska and Tom Netting, co-executive directors of the Central States Private Education Network or CSPEN, have extensive backgrounds in the career college field.

Prochaska, who also works as vice president of educational development for TextAim, a communications company that allows back and forth conversations with students by text, started in the field in 1991. With extensive knowledge of admissions, accreditation and compliance, she says she has worked in everything from cosmetology schools to larger schools like Career Education Corporation, Remington College and Anthem College. She says, “I have really done everything that you could possibly be involved with in enrolling students.”

Netting, who also is a public policy adviser with Akerman, LLP, a U.S. law firm, has been in the industry since 1989 and has worked in the public policy arena with specific expertise in issues related to higher education and workforce development, health care, veteran affairs policies and the procurement of federal appropriations.

“My entire professional career has been involved in one form or fashion of working with the private education network, including for-profit as well as now the non-profits,” he says. “I have worked with accrediting bodies. I have worked with national trade associations and I work directly for one of the major publicly traded organizations.”

For more information on CSPEN
Call: (952) 461-5374
Email: info@centralstatesedu.com
Website: centralstatesedu.com

Written by Barbara A. Schmitz from an interview with Jeri Prochaska and Tom Netting, Co-Executive Directors, CSPEN

The Central States Private Education Network, a new, grass-roots federal and state advocacy network, was created to promote the interests of all private schools in five Midwest states.

Jeri Prochaska and Tom Netting, co-executive directors of CSPEN, said they started the network, based in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan, out of concerns that media were only reporting negative things about the sector.
“We were being beat up by the press and certain politicians, and it dawned on me that it was happening because they did not know about our sector,” said Prochaska. “They had not experienced or seen the good we have done.”
In some states, many politicians are against the sector, Prochaska said. However, the sector did not have any representation as a unit in those states.

“While there are some very strong and very effective state associations that have leant that voice, there was a dearth of representation in the five states and a couple of other states in the central part of the country,” said Netting, In fact, their research showed there was no state association in Iowa. “And that left former Sen. Harkin unfettered in his ability to certainly push for major reforms within our community,” he added.

In those five Midwestern states, CSPEN aims to be a clearinghouse for all sectors of the private school industry, enabling the schools to share information, access resources to assist them in their operations, and most importantly, to promote the virtues of the sector to meet employers’ demands for a skilled workforce.

Even when it is uncomfortable, the sector needs to ensure that politicians hear both sides of the story, Netting said. “We are now looking at a Congress where the playing field certainly seems a little more level,” he said. “It is important to bring our reputation of quality, and more importantly, the stories of our successful students, to the representatives at both the state and the federal levels in these five states.”

What makes CSPEN unique, Prochaska said, is the way it is set up. “Knowing that school enrollment has declined and that there is a lot of pressure on these schools, we set CSPEN up as a vendor-supported organization,” she said. The whole idea is that people in admissions, financial aid or academia can come to their conferences, where they can learn from each other and share best practices, all without breaking the bank.

It is easy for a school to become a member. To sign up, all a school would need to do is go to the CSPEN website, centralstatesedu.com, or call Prochaska or Netting. Membership is open to any private postsecondary institution, college, or school offering education programs that are state licensed and accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. CSPEN represents all portions of the for-profit and non-profit communities. “We represent the full broad group of occupational career and vocational education, regardless of their tax status,” Netting added.

Since vendors and providers that service the schools in the region sponsor CSPEN, there are no annual membership dues for school members.

“Because we are vendor driven, the vendors are promoting this as a value-added benefit to all five of the states and their individual clients,” Netting said. “Vendors and the institutional community have put aside some of their competitive stripes in terms of this organization. The various competitors are coming together for the good of all.”
CSPEN’s mission is simplistic: to provide a voice for local, state and federal level legislation, as well as a voice to the students that the sector trains, they said.

“Essentially, we are doing what has been done effectively in the Northwest and bringing it to the central area of the country,” Netting said. “We have created a multi-state association that provides information on legislation and media coverage at the local, state and federal levels, in order to attempt to bring forward rebuttals to negative information and proper positioning in the legislative arena,” Netting explained.

Prochaska said her goal is to simply help these schools stay in business. “There are schools out there that are basically a legacy; they have been around for 25 or 30 years, and they are family owned. They love their students, and they do a great job. But right now they really have to do battle …”

Prochaska said CSPEN aims to create a unit where everyone can come together, and share best practices and news about the good they do. “We provide a voice in these five states for both the students who receive a quality education and the institutions that provide it, thanks to the support of the vendors who help promote it,” she said.

However, starting such an association has not always been easy. Netting said the logistics of coordinating the schools and vendors has been challenging. “The vendors and the schools are helping drive this organization,” he said. “We are just a conduit, or attempting to be a conduit, for what they say are their goals and mission statements.”

Another challenge, Prochaska said, was the mundane things, like creating the website and dealing with the “nitty gritty” of starting CSPEN.

However, Prochaska said she anticipated the biggest challenge of starting the organization would have been getting people to embrace the concept. But that has not been a challenge at all. A “think tank,” held in March 2015 in Chicago, showed that most schools were already on board.

“I called 16 different school leaders … and invited them to come to our office so we could tell them what we had in mind and to see if they were interested in their school participating,” Prochaska said. “We had 13 show up, and every single person was absolutely over the moon excited that this was happening.”

While still a young association, CSPEN is already meeting some of its goals, or is at least on its way to meeting those goals, both short- and long-term.

“Our short-term goal is to bring in as many people as we can and show them the value of the organization by offering quality webinars, conferences and that type of thing,” Netting said. Other short-term goals include providing the institutions with additional resources that will help them improve, he added.

CSPEN’s first conference will be held on Sept. 23-25 at the Renaissance O’Hare in Chicago. “We will have everyone there from the various accrediting bodies,” Prochaska said. “I guarantee it is going to be a lot of great information. In fact, we would love anyone reading this article to share their knowledge and submit something.”

But in the long term, Netting said his primary goal would be to work with institutions and gain rapport with individuals at the federal, state and local levels in the five states. “We have a considerable number of individuals on the Education Committee in the House and Senate who are from these states,” he said. Those include Congressmen Glenn Grothman and Mark Pocan, of Wisconsin; Tim Walberg and Mike Bishop, of Michigan; and John Kline, of Minnesota, who also serves as chairman of the committee; as well as Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois, Al Franken of Minnesota and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

“We also have Assistant Democratic Leader Richard Durbin of Illinois, who is the second highest ranking member of the Democrat Caucus – more commonly referred to as the Senate Minority Whip, who has been a very vocal critic of our community,” Netting said. “While we certainly do not think that we can move the mountain in a day, week or a month, we stand ready to engage him and have conversations with him.”

Netting said he has already contacted Durbin and his staff. “In fact, we have already reached out verbally and we will be following up in writing, inviting him to come and participate in our September conference,” Netting said. “We are not sure whether he will accept our invitation, but we are not shying away from bringing individuals forward to understand the quality that we provide.”

One of the goals will be to get Durbin to visit one of the schools and see some of the successful students. “I do not think there is an institution out there, whether it is traditional, private, profit or non-profit, that has never made a mistake and is perfect,” Prochaska said. “I do not think that you can put everyone under one big umbrella and say they are all bad. We know that is just not true.”

Netting said they are taking a page directly out of Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray’s directive to make the coming reauthorization a bipartisan process. “Given the fact that we know that it is going to be a bipartisan negotiation, we have the need and the necessity to address the issues of individuals like Sen. Durbin,” he said. “Candidly, I do not have any compunction with doing so. The discussions and the hearing that took place just yesterday focused on outcomes. To a school and to a school owner, I do not think there is anybody who would not stand on our outcomes, given a fair comparison, to any other sector of the higher education community.”

Netting said he believes reform is necessary. “But the reforms put forward must be applied equally to all institutions of higher education,” he stressed.

If you are thinking about starting a similar organization for other states, Prochaska said the main thing you need is passion for the industry. “We are just following our hearts here,” she said. “We are not solving world peace; we are just trying to save the good names of the institutions and the students that we have worked with for most of our lives.”
“It is not only the heart and the passion,” Netting added, “but that we are all an extended family. If there are other states that do not have a voice or are looking to enhance their voice, let it be known that if they are willing to put forth the time and energy, they will be pleasantly surprised at how many other individuals — vendors and institutions — are willing to step up as well.”

While it has not been easy to create CSPEN, it has been a labor of love for both. “It is starting to come together and I think that we, like so many others, can make a difference because of our passion,” Netting said.
Prochaska stressed that leaders in different states can also lend a voice and help CSPEN. “For anyone who is passionate and who has a success story to share, we would love to hear from you.”

Written by Barbara A. Schmitz from an interview by Jennifer Faubert

Jeri Prochaska

Jeri Prochaska Vice President of Higher Education Relations at TextAim, is responsible for leading business development initiatives and the successful management of education clients. Jeri has a passion for the education industry, and specializes with increasing enrollments and retention through innovative communication. She brings an extensive knowledge of admissions, accreditation and compliance accumulated over a period of more than two decades of working within Career Colleges. Jeri is also the Co-Executive Director of the Central States Private Education Network, which represents schools in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.

Contact Information:Jeri Prochaska // Vice President of Higher Education Relations // TextAim // 952-277-9966 // jeri@textaim.com

Tom Netting

Tom Netting has more than 20 years of experience working in government relations and public policy on matters involving higher education and workforce development, elementary and secondary education, healthcare, veterans affairs and the procurement of federal appropriations. Tom represents for-profit institutions of higher education and post-secondary education companies.

Contact Information:Tom E. Netting // Public Policy Advisory // Akerman LLP // The Victor Building, 750 Ninth Street, N.W. Suite 750 Washington, D.C. 20001 // 202-393-6222 // tom.netting@akerman.com


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *