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New chief to oversee California's private vocational schools

Thor Swift/The Bay Citizen State regulators in February shut down the Institute of Medical Education after finding it had violated education laws. Complaints about the school were featured in a Bay Citizen investigation. 

Today, Laura Metune became the new chief of the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, the beleaguered state agency charged with overseeing the state’s vocational and for-profit colleges. Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Metune to the $110,580-a-year post earlier this month.

Metune's appointment comes after a Bay Citizen investigation revealed the bureau had failed to properly oversee the state's 1,300 technical, vocational and other private postsecondary schools.

The investigation found that the bureau failed to vigorously investigate complaints, monitor the quality of educational programs, and track or penalize unaccredited schools. The Bay Citizen also found more than 130 postsecondary schools operating with expired state approvals.

After The Bay Citizen published its reports, Karen Newquist, the head of enforcement for the bureau, resigned. Joanne Wenzel, who had overseen the bureau for the past two years, will continue to serve as its deputy chief. And the state took the unusual step of shutting down a school featured in one of the articles.

Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown, said Metune was selected to “tackle the challenges of the bureau.”

“You have laid out those challenges very thoroughly in your stories,” Westrup said in an interview. “We are confident that she will do an excellent job in addressing those challenges and providing new leadership at the bureau.”

Metune, 33, said she is ready to impose reforms, if necessary, to address lapses in oversight.

“We will have to jump in and make sure that the bureau is meeting the needs of students,” she said in an interview. “I will go in and learn from the staff, how they are currently operating, and learn about the areas we are strong in and where we can improve.”

Metune declined to provide specifics on how she would address various lapses, saying she needs time to consult with bureau staff. When asked why state regulators allowed more than 130 schools to operate for months without proper approval, she said the “law has in place penalties for schools operating without approval from the bureau. In order for us to enforce those provisions, we would have a process in place so we can take the assigned actions.”

Assemblyman Marty Block, D-Lemon Grove, chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, has drafted legislation requiring for-profit, postsecondary schools to disclose their accreditation status and post catalogs and other reports on their websites. A committee hearing on the bill had been scheduled for yesterday but was postponed. 

Metune, a Democrat, has worked in state government for more than a decade, including stints as the legislative director for former state Sen. Carole Migden and most recently as a consultant to the Assembly Higher Education Committee. She helped draft the 2009 law creating the current bureau. That law was designed to strengthen protections for the approximately 400,000 students who attend private vocational schools in California.

Consumer advocates hailed Metune’s appointment.

“We're encouraged by the appointment of Laura Metune,” said Elisabeth Voigt, senior staff attorney at Public Advocates, a civil rights organization based in San Francisco. “There is much work to do to strengthen the bureau's oversight of postsecondary schools, and we look forward to working with Ms. Metune and bureau staff to better protect students and improve California's vocational training.”

The state Senate has one year to confirm Metune's appointment. 

Filed under: Higher Ed, Daily Report

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