Rethinking ‘gainful employment’

The Education Department should rethink its “gainful employment” regulations aimed at for-profit colleges, writes Rick Hess in Ed Week. The rules reflect a major policy switch that should be debated, Hess argues. Do we want to make it possible for all Americans to attend college?  Or do we now want colleges to reject nontraditional students who are at high risk of failure? 

The  House voted 289-136 Friday to block the Department of Education’s plan to impose “gainful employment” regulations on trade schools and for-profit colleges, Hess notes.

In addition to the support of all but four Republicans, the proposal also drew the backing of 58 House Democrats–including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The proposal drew the ire of the Congressional Black Caucus, which voiced concerns that it would stifle opportunities for nontraditional students.

The measure is unlikely to pass the Senate or to be signed into law by the president. But it shows there’s considerable opposition to the administration’s “ham-handed attempt to selectively regulate the eligibility of students at for-profit colleges for federal aid,”  Hess writes.

For-profit colleges disproportionately enroll nontraditional students, such as adults with jobs and family responsibilities, minorities and first-generation college students. That’s directly in line with federal policy, Hess writes.

The feds have been making loans and grants available pretty indiscriminately, so that students can attend for-profits and non-profits alike. However, publics and non-profits, due to inertia, political constraints, comfortable routines, and the reliance on large state subsidies, have done a poor job of expanding their capacity or making their programs more accommodating to the logistical and scheduling needs of nontraditional students. For-profits have . . . filled that gap, growing like wildfire while modifying calendars, placing campuses in convenient locales, and making extensive use of online tools.

. . . for-profits seeking market share and profits also have incentives to cut corners and accept as many students as they can. But that’s what the feds have asked them to do.

The “gainful employment” rule will force for-profit career colleges to reject students who aren’t likely to complete a degree and get a job. The University of Phoenix and Kaplan already have started programs to screen out less motivated students in order to reduce failure rates. 

Community colleges, which also admit all comers, have abysmal completion rates, much lower than rates for two-year for-profit programs. Should community colleges be required to enroll only students with a reasonable chance of success? What about the historically black colleges, which also accept high-risk students and also have high default rates?

President Obama’s goal – at least one year of  postsecondary education for everyone and more college degrees — requires federal support for high-risk students, many of whom will not find “gainful employment.”

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON February 23, 2011

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[...] degrees and a year of postsecondary education for everyone, but his Education Department wants to cut off loan eligibility to career colleges that give high-risk students a chance to fulfill the pre…. What’s the policy? asks Rick [...]

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