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Gunderson to retire as CEO of CECU

Former congressman says time is right for transition at career education group

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May 15, 2020
By Kathryn Walson

Former Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.) is retiring as president and CEO of the Arlington, Va.-based Career Education Colleges and Universities after leading the group since 2012. CECU is a trade association representing the private, primarily for-profit career education sector. 

“Over the past couple of years I’ve encouraged my board to begin a search for a new leader,” Gunderson told CEO Update in an email. “After the 2020 elections we will have either a second term of Trump or the first term of Biden. In either case there will be new leadership at the Department of Education. There will be a new Chair of the Senate Education Committee. Maybe other changes in education policy leadership. This is the right time for a transition. The next president of CECU needs to be in place for the next four years or longer.” 

“The sector has been incredibly supportive—even in difficult challenges. And so I want to make a transition when it is the right time for the association,” Gunderson wrote. “I’ve told the board I’m happy to do whatever is in CECU’s best interests, and whenever that happens. But I’d be very surprised if it were before the end of this year.”

Gunderson has been a high-profile defender of for-profit vocational and career-focused education, which has taken a huge hit over the past decade. Several major career college chains have shut down in recent years in the wake of allegations that students were being saddled with enormous amount of debt relative to what they could actually expect to earn with their training.

CECU’s total revenue has fallen from $21 million in 2011 to $3.4 million in the year ending June 30, 2018, according to disclosure forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service.  

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last year rescinded the “gainful employment” regulation that had been put in place by the Obama administration. The regulation required greater accountability for vocational and career training programs in order for students in those programs to receive federal financial aid.

According to CECU’s website, Gunderson has worked to refocus the association and the sector on workforce education programming and has become a strong voice for postsecondary career education, writing and speaking on the topic across the country. He was previously president and CEO of the Council on Foundations from 2005 to 2011.

Gunderson represented Wisconsin in Congress from 1981 to 1997. He then became senior consultant and managing director of the Washington office of The Greystone Group, a consulting firm. 

Executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart will assist in the search for Gunderson’s successor.