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WASHINGTON -- Jane Oates, who last month left a top post at the U.S. Department of Labor, has begun her new job with the Apollo Group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix.

Wednesday was her first at Apollo’s D.C. office, Oates said in an interview. She is vice president for external affairs, with a focus on work-force development.

Word of Oates’s gig had spread around higher-education policy circles, surprising some who had worked with her.

As the Obama administration’s assistant labor secretary for employment and training, Oates oversaw the distribution of federal grants for job training. She worked closely with community college leaders on the Workforce Investment Act and the $2 billion in grants under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program. Observers said she is generally well-respected by representatives of traditional higher education, who at times have found themselves at odds with for-profits.

At Apollo Oates will continue her focus on helping connect employers with work-force training programs. She said her primary concern is making sure that job seekers “have the skills that employers want.”

She will represent Phoenix, which is the nation’s largest for-profit, as well as Apollo’s additional holdings, including Western International University and other institutions that operate overseas. She will not manage the company’s government affairs and lobbying operations, said an Apollo spokesman.

Oates said Apollo’s primary draw is its unique mix of “quality, agility and risk-taking.”

As for schisms between for-profit and nonprofit colleges, Oates said she never bought into the “Hatfield vs. McCoy” approach to higher education policy. And learning outcomes, such as whether students receive quality educations that help them get good jobs, should apply to all colleges. “Everybody has to be pushed,” she said.

Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, said “Jane brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the post.”

Apollo has a history of hiring Washington clout, Hartle said. For example, Sally Stroup, an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration, filled a similar position at Apollo before heading to the department. She is now executive vice president for government relations and general counsel at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the primary for-profit trade group. (Note: This paragraph has been changed from an earlier version to correct a reference to Stroup's former jobs.)

Apollo, like most of the for-profit sector, has been hit hard lately by slumping enrollment and revenue. But the company’s share price has recovered somewhat in the last two months.

Recently Phoenix has redoubled its outreach with corporate partners, including efforts to structure degree and certificate programs around employers’ needs. Its advertising slogan has been “let’s get to work.”

Oates was a staffer for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who was a heavy hitter on education. But the for-profit issue was not as heated during her time on the Hill as it is now.

Her resignation from the Labor Department came during a turbulent time for its Job Corps program, which operates 125 employment training centers around the country. Oates had acknowledged budgeting and oversight problems with the program, according to The Washington Post.

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