Business and Secretarial Schools

SIC 8244

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes establishments offering courses in business machine operation, office procedures, and secretarial and stenographic skills. Schools offering academic degrees are classified in Industry Groups 821 and 822.

Independent business and secretarial schools, once widespread, have steadily decreased in number since the 1950s as business education has migrated to colleges and universities and secretarial training has undergone a transformation. Where secretaries were once responsible for typing, filing, and taking dictation, their tasks have grown to encompass computerized business systems. Secretarial training is typically part of vocational training offered at technical and community colleges that have the financial resources to purchase business equipment for students. The term "secretarial school" itself has become antiquated in the United States. According to a report by global market research firm IBISWorld, business certification schools were on a downward cycle by the early 2010s, as increasingly advanced computer technology dampened the demand for human clerical skills and more students migrated to junior colleges in an effort to gain a degree that would make them marketable in a competitive business world.

Nevertheless, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, 802 business and secretarial schools were operating in the United States. Figures from D&B Marketing Solutions showed that these establishments employed approximately 26,000 people and earned almost $2.5 billion in annual revenues. States with the most revenues in the industry were Illinois, New York, and Minnesota.

For centuries, the profession of secretary was dominated by educated, economically lower-class males. Because there was no specialized equipment, a liberal arts education was considered adequate for a secretary's schooling. When the English gunsmith firm E. Remington and Sons began to produce typewriters in 1873, they employed young women to demonstrate the machines. As a result, the secretarial profession became associated with females. Remington and other companies established schools that offered typing instruction. These schools later evolved into secretarial schools. The Katherine Gibbs Schools, which were founded in 1911 in Providence, Rhode Island, became one of the most noteworthy names in the industry. Gibbs graduates earned the best jobs, having learned excellent typing and stenography skills, grammar, business writing, etiquette, and even how to dress.

Because some U.S. executives believed that British secretaries were a status symbol, firms such as England's Brook Street Bureau of Mayfair, Ltd. trained secretaries and placed them in U.S. companies. Changes in immigration laws in the 1960s restricted such placement, and Brook Street established its own secretarial schools in the United States. The 1960s also saw the return of men into the U.S. secretarial workforce. Men trained in secretarial schools were often hired by female executives who were eager to reverse conventional gender roles.

Secretarial training became a common facet of community college systems as these institutions grew in number and stature during the 1960s and 1970s. Government funding for community colleges provided all members of the community the opportunity to acquire valuable skills. As Charles Myers wrote in 1970 of a secretarial training program at the Southern Nevada Vocational Technical Center, "The secretarial student who completes her course at the Las Vegas Vocational Center is entering the business world better equipped to handle today's modern business equipment than were any of her predecessors....Thus, the community which has invested in her training gets its return at a higher interest rate than ever before."

The 1980s brought sweeping changes to business and secretarial schools as new or refined technologies, such as photocopiers, fax machines, and personal computers, entered business offices. While technology eliminated or improved many secretarial tasks, it also required that secretaries receive new types of training. In 1981, Katharine Gibbs School Inc., then a subsidiary of Macmillan Inc., announced the formation of Gibbs Consulting Group to offer office automation training. Recognizing that the role of secretaries had changed, Gibbs also focused on training managers to utilize their secretaries most effectively. In 1985, publishing magnate Robert Maxwell acquired Macmillan and proceeded to rid the company of all nonpublishing operations, including the Katharine Gibbs Schools.

E-commerce was the buzzword at business schools during the late 1990s, and those that offered courses in e-commerce and Internet business strategies had students lined up to register. Overall, technology courses such as MIS (management information systems) and computer science were most in demand, causing business schools to continue to move away from secretarial skills and toward office automation and computer technology, accounting programs, court reporting programs, paralegal training, administrative training, legal secretarial programs, medical secretarial programs, and travel agent training in their curricula. Institutes offering these curricula included the Academy of Court Reporting, Michigan-based Dorsey Business Schools, and the renowned Wharton Business School.

According to a study completed by the Babson School of Executive Training in Massachusetts and the London School of Economics, in 1999, 1 in 12 persons in the United States was engaged in an entrepreneurial activity, compared to 1 in 30 in Britain. By catering to the needs of entrepreneurs in their curricular development, business schools hoped to create a niche for themselves in a market of educational services clamoring to gain the competitive edge over traditional institutions for the training of business and corporate skills.

One of the largest business and secretarial school companies in the early 2010s was Bryant & Stratton College Inc., based in Buffalo, New York. It owned and operated only business schools, with 18 campuses in New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The school also offered associate and bachelor's degrees online.

Dale Carnegie & Associates., headquartered in Hauppauge, New York, was the provider of the well-known Dale Carnegie Training. Founded in 1912 by Dale Carnegie, author of the famed How to Win Friends and Influence People, the company offered courses in 25 different languages in more than 80 countries. The firm had 2,700 instructors and by 2012 had trained approximately 8 million people. Dale Carnegie Courses provided a unique type of business skills training that could be targeted to any employee at a business, whether management or non-management. Training was available at Dale Carnegie facilities, at a place of business, and online. The company offered courses designed to improve management and employee performance in areas such as sales presentation, public speaking, organizational planning, goal setting, teamwork, customer relations, and problem solving. Clients included Toyota, Adidas, Best Buy, and hundreds of others.

Katharine Gibbs Schools, owned by the large for-profit educational services company Career Education Corporation (CEC), had been an industry leader for years. With a long-standing reputation in secretarial training, brand recognition helped the school grow into a nine-campus system with 12,000 students in the mid-2000s from a mere 3,000 students in 1997. Gibbs grounded students in the mandatory subjects of professional development, business writing, and etiquette, and required students to keep up with technological trends. In 2005, for example, laptop computers were required for all students, classrooms featured wireless computer connections, and classes included information technology training and graphic design. However, after an investigation by the state education department concerning poor faculty and course quality on its New York campus, and an unsuccessful attempt to sell the school in 2007, the CEC converted the New York campus and another in Virginia to Sanford-Brown Colleges. The other seven Katherine Gibbs campuses were closed. However, CEC continued to offer business education through other institutions, and as of 2012 the company had 90 campuses globally, 13,000 employees, and total enrollment of about 90,000 students. Some of the schools most focused on the business field included Sanford-Brown, Missouri College, and Colorado Technical University.

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