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Policy changes to improve private occupational school system

Private occupational schools in Massachusetts will undergo several reforms in order to make processes more efficient and provide financial protection for students, the Division of Professional Licensure announced on Monday.

These new changes will involve improving the efficiency of the approval and certification process for new instructors, changing the reviewing process of school programs and streamlining the license renewal process.

“These changes are designed to simplify and clarify the licensing process for schools, so that they can more easily comply with the law and focus on training students for good jobs,” said DPL Director Mark Kmetz in the Monday press release.  “At the same time, agency resources can be focused toward oversight and enforcement where necessary to ensure that students are getting what they pay for.”

These three changes are in addition to many others that came after private occupational schools switched from being under the authority of Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to being under DPL.

According to the release, DPL analyzed existing regulations, policies and procedures. DPL is assisted in this process by an advisory board, including 12 members all with varying but extensive experiences in the private occupational school system.

“Occupational schools provide valuable training for the future Massachusetts workforce,” said Barbara Anthony, chair of the Advisory Council on Private Occupational Schools. “These streamlined licensure procedures will help these schools focus on providing their students the fundamental education that they need to succeed in their respective trades and professions.”

The instructor approval and certification process will be shortened from a six-page form, not counting the necessary proof of certifications and transcripts, to a two-page form. Jean Nebesar, school director of the American Academy of Personal Training, said this has been an issue in the past and improving the process will be very helpful.

“The instructor approval process in the past has been pretty intense, and although it’s a good process, it posed an issue when we needed to replace an instructor without much notice and had classes going on that needed to continue,” she said. “Allowing for that process to account for time-sensitive situations is helpful. I can’t say whether the new process accomplishes this, as we haven’t yet needed to use it, but we’ll see.”

Nebesar said she valued the way the DPL took into account feedback given during town hall meetings.

“I appreciated the attention given to the instructor application process, as this is an important topic for our school,” she said. “It’s imperative for instructors to go through an application process, but there needed to be an expedited option for situations requiring fast turnaround in order to minimize curriculum or schedule interruptions for ongoing classes.”

Two changes will be made regarding the reviewal of the institution itself. First, instead of reviewing all the school’s classes, only the courses that directly contribute to the field in which they are training people for will be reviewed.

Additionally, the license renewal process will be adjusted so that it is more productive and concise. Financial information will need to be submitted 90 days prior to the expiration date and renewal applications 60 days prior. Before these changes, all materials were due at the same time, 30 days prior to the expiration date.

“I think [the new timetable] will be an adjustment,” Nebesar said. “It will be very helpful if the DPL mails notices and helps to keep us on schedule, because we have so many deadlines for all of our regulating bodies that we report to it can be a challenge … any time that timetables like that change it definitely affects our administrative process.”

Some residents said improving the productivity of the private occupational school system is vital to making sure these students are receiving sufficient training.

“If the old ways were keeping some students from having teachers for classes when one teacher left the school, that’s really bad,” said Meghan Reynolds, 22, of Roxbury. “It’s already alternative education, it needs to be quality.”

Daniel Chen, 51, of Chinatown, said it is beneficial for the school system to be consistently evaluated.

“It’s good that things like this are being brought up,” he said. “Although the system will probably never be perfect, it’s nice that they’re always trying to improve it.”

John Nguyen, 46, of Back Bay, said these changes may not be drastic enough.

“It’s good that they’re trying to make the system more efficient,” he said. “But these don’t seem like changes that will really affect or improve the students’ education.”

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