‘Gainful employment’ rule drops defaults

Community college leaders like the U.S. Education Department’s final gainful employment rules, which focus on graduates’ debt-to-earnings ratio, but don’t consider default rates.

The new regulations “protect students from predatory programs that lead to high levels of indebtedness,” said J. Noah Brown, president of the Association of Community College Trustees in a statement. “The final regulations contain a critical modification sought by community colleges, and the result is a stronger and simpler framework.”

Because tuition is low, only nine percent of certificate students at public two-year institutions take out federal loans, said Brown. Community colleges feared losing aid eligibility because of high default rates for a small number of students.

However, some consumer groups said the new rules are too weak.

 

“The final gainful employment regulation does not do enough to stop the fleecing of students and taxpayers,” according to the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).

Dropping the default rate opens “a giant policy loophole,” writes Ben Miller on EdCentral. The debt-to-earnings measure holds career colleges accountable for their graduates’ success. The default rate included borrowers who dropped out. That’s a large group.

We know that dropouts, especially those with debt, are substantially more likely to default on their student loans, be unemployed and suffer other negative consequences. In fact, dropouts account for more than 60 percent of defaulters. Ignoring these issues could encourage colleges to be judicious about who they allow to graduate and could lead to tactics like giving retroactive scholarships to students who are about to graduate just so they can keep their debt balances down.

Career colleges will be “at liberty to defraud students with impunity, so long as they make sure they don’t graduate,” said education policy analyst Barmak Nassirian.

For-profit career colleges “will feel almost all of the sting from gainful employment,” predicts Inside Higher Ed.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan estimates that 1,400 academic programs with 840,000 students will fail to meet the standards, unless they improve. Ninety-nine percent of those programs are at for-profit colleges, he said.

The for-profit colleges’ trade association said the new regulations are based on an “arbitrary and capricious” metric. “The latest version of the gainful employment regulation has done nothing to fix this fundamentally flawed and misguided proposal,” said Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities in a statement.

Vets choose for-profits over public options

Thirty-one percent of military veterans enrolled in for-profit colleges in 2012, up from 23 percent three years earlier. Only 50 percent chose public colleges, down from 62 percent.

For-profit colleges use aggressive marketing to lure vets — and their generous GI Bill funding — complains Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin a new report. For-profit colleges received $1.7 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits during the 2012-13 academic year.

At the for-profit colleges receiving the most benefits, up to 66 percent of students left without earning a certificate or degree, according to the report. In addition, 39 to 57 percent of the vocational programs “offered by four of the companies receiving the most Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits would fail to meet the proposed gainful employment rule, suggesting that the students who attend these institutions do not earn enough to pay back the debt they take
on.”

Veterans choose for-profit institutions “because they offer the right mix of study programs, customer service, and locations and times that meet their needs better than do public college,” writes Daniel L. Bennett, an assistant economics professor at Patrick Henry College and a Center for College Affordability and Productivity research fellow.

Harkin also suggests it costs taxpayers nearly twice as much to send a veteran to a for-profit college ($7,972) than to a public one ($3,914). But these figures are highly misleading. They only account for GI tuition payments, ignoring significant taxpayer subsidies and tax exemption. A 2011 AIR report estimated the annual taxpayer cost per full-time equivalent (FTE) student at unselective public colleges to be nearly $8,000, while for-profit students actually provided taxpayers with an average net gain of nearly $800.

Many vets are looking for job training. For-profit colleges’ two-year programs have much higher completion rates than community college programs, writes Matt Reed, the Community College Dean. Career colleges focus on job training with no electives and minimal delays for remediation. That could be one reason why low-cost community colleges are having trouble competing with high-cost for-profit colleges.

A new bill — soon to be a law — will let veterans pay in-state tuition at any state college or university.

Gainful employment regs for everyone?

The Gainful Employment Rule Is Coming For Everyone, warns Edububble. For now, the for-profit colleges are being forced to “generate a real return for their students,” but it won’t stop there, he writes.

Once the world starts getting the bill for Income-Based Repayment, this will be the only choice for the Republic. Come after the source of the pain and that means all of those twits studying cross-disciplinary BioTheater and other overpriced courses like English or even Bio.

. . . There are too many defaults and the government is just going to have to shut down the free money fountain.

The gainful-employment rule applies to career programs at public and private nonprofit colleges, as well as to for-profits. If too many students in a career program default on loans or run up a high level of debt relative to their earnings, that program’s students would lose access to federal student aid. Community colleges, which have a rising number of borrowers and high default rates, are plenty worried about it already.

The U.S. Education Department’s revised proposal is “flawed, arbitrary, and biased,” and will shut millions of students out of college, contends the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which represents the for-profit sector, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A 100-age report by economists at Charles River Associates, funded by the for-profit trade group, attacked the regulations for using the level of students’ earnings rather than their earnings gains to measure a program’s effectiveness.

While the Education Department estimates 31 percent of students would be affected, potentially losing access to student aid, the report predicts as many as 44 percent would be enrolled in programs that fail the federal test.

Coupled with income-based repayment, the proposed rules would protect programs whose graduates have very low earnings, writes Ben Miller on EdCentral. “Allowing programs to pass solely based on the annual debt-to-earnings measure makes it possible for a program with sub-poverty wages to still avoid failing the metrics.”

Duncan uses bogus stat to hit for-profit colleges

“Of the for-profit gainful employment programs that our department could analyze, and which could be affected by our actions today, the majority — the significant majority, 72 percent — produce graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts.” So said Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a White House news conference on March 14. That earned two “Pinocchios” for lying from the Washington Post’s fact-checker.

Embedded image permalinkEssentially, Duncan compares apples to oranges — with a few lemons thrown in — to make for-profit colleges look bad.

The Education Department estimates that high school dropouts average $24,492 year. The Labor Department puts the median annual wage at $18,580 to $22,860. A Census estimate is $20,241.

Then, Duncan compares employed dropouts’ earnings to all recent for-profit graduates. Comparing all dropouts to all for-profit graduates — or employed dropouts to employed graduates — would show a very different picture.

Comparing dropouts of all ages, including many with job experience, to less-experienced for-profit graduates also skews the results.

Duncan’s number looks at the number of programs that produce low-earning graduates, not at the number of graduates. “The Education Department does not have individual student data, so it could well be that most graduates do fine, especially from the larger programs,” reports the Post.
Six-year outcomes by starting institution type (Source: National Student Clearinghouse)A third of community college programs’ graduates earn less than high school dropouts, by the Department’s measure, observes the Post.  “Graduates of 57 percent of private institutions — a list that includes Harvard’s Dental School but also child-care training programs — earn less than high school dropouts.”

For-profit colleges enroll many low-income, minority and adult students, who are the least likely to succeed in college. Tuition is higher, since the for-profits aren’t subsidized by taxpayers. Students depend heavily on federal loans and default rates are high.

Community college students averaged $2,300 in tuition in 2009-10 compared to $15,000 for students at for-profit two-year colleges, according to one study. However, 62.4 percent of students at for-profit two-year colleges complete a credential in six years, compared to 39.9 percent of community college students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

‘Gainful employment’ rules are ‘awful’

The new “gainful employment” rules are “awful,” “unfair and discriminatory,” writes Richard Vedder on Minding the Campus. An Ohio University economist, Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

The gainful employment rules apply to vocational programs at career colleges (primarily for-profit) and community colleges. If the goal is to stop wasting government money,”why not scrutinize students majoring in, for example, sociology, from Wayne State University?” asks Vedder. “Only 10 percent of students graduate in four years at Wayne State, and over twice as many default on loans as graduate in that time span.”

Moreover, while dropouts and loan defaults are high at many for-profits, when one corrects for the socioeconomic and academic characteristics of the students, the findings are decidedly more mixed. For example, the for-profits have roughly double the proportion of African-American students as do other institutions, and black students disproportionately come from low-income homes with high incidence of college attrition.

. . . I happen to disagree fundamentally with the “college for all” approach of the Obama Administration, but if you are going to pursue it, why attack the very providers who most aggressively are trying to help meet your goals? The for-profits disproportionately enroll poor first-generation students, and who are members of minorities. Moreover, accounted for properly (including state subsidies for public schools, taxes paid by for-profits, etc.), the for-profits use fewer of society’s resources per student.

The six-year completion rate for students at two-year for-profit colleges is 62.4 percent, the National Student Clearinghouse reports. At community colleges, which also enroll many disadvantaged students, the completion rate is 39.9 percent.

Finally, the “gainful employment” regulations say a borrower shouldn’t have to spend more than 12 percent of total income (20 to 30 percent of so-called discretionary income) to repay student loans. A person earning $35,000 a year with $4,800 annual loan repayments would not be considered gainfully employed. “If the individual in question went from a $20,000 job before going to school to a $35,000 job with a $4,800 loan commitment, that person has advanced considerably,” Vedder argues.

Repeal the Higher Education Act and “radically rethink federal provision of aid to students,” he concludes.

Students at a community college in rural Texas may lose all access to federal aid, including Pell Grants, because of a new regulation on defaults, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Gainful employment for all

Gainful employment regulations are baaaaaaaack. The Obama administration will try again to regulate career training programs — primarily at for-profit colleges — that leave students in debt they don’t earn enough to repay. 

The draft “includes standards for debt-to-earnings rates and other language that could generate significant debate,” reports the Washington Post. The Education Department estimates that 9 percent of career training programs could fail to meet the new standards.

The White House push is too narrow, argues Reihan Salam on Reuters.

The Department of Education plans to identify vocational programs that leave their average graduate paying a high share of their earnings in loan payments (8 percent or more of total earnings, 20 percent or more of discretionary earnings) as well as those with a high average loan default rate (of 30 percent or more). Programs that cross these red lines in two out of three years will lose the right to offer their students federal financial aid.

Curbing the abuses of this sector could do some good. But career training programs represent a small subset of the higher education universe. If we take a somewhat wider view, it seems pretty puzzling that, say, business or engineering majors at four-year colleges and universities aren’t being treated as enrollees in vocational programs.

Many recent college graduates are underemployed and unable to pay back student loans, Salam argues. Most thought their degree would lead to a good job.

If the regulation were applied to all of higher education, programs like a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, a law degree from George Washington University Law School and a bachelor’s degree in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University, would all be penalized,” complains Steve Gunderson, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the for-profits’ trade association.

Why not “protect consumers from the least effective post-secondary programs” in all branches of  higher education?, asks Salam. Whether it’s overpriced paralegal training at a career college or an overpriced bachelor’s in film studies from a private nonprofit college, the borrower is likely to default.

ACCT: Aim ‘gainful’ rule at high-cost colleges

Gainful employment regulations should give a pass to low-cost programs with few borrowers, argues the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT). Most community and technical college programs are in the “low cost, low risk” category. Only 9 percent of students seeking a vocational certificate go into debt, according to the ACCT statement.

ACCT strongly encourages the Administration to reconsider the “low-cost, low-risk” proposal that was offered by the community college negotiators during the 2013 negotiated rulemaking sessions.

The Administration’s utilization of the program-level cohort default rate (CDR) is problematic for community colleges. We have always believed that metrics focusing solely on borrowers alone are improper measures of institutional or program quality. The “pCDR” judges whether a significant number of students who borrow are defaulting on their federal loans even if a very small number of overall participants borrowed any such loans. Under the pCDR, a handful of borrowers could negatively impact the ability of a much larger group of students to benefit from federal aid.

Since for-profit colleges aren’t subsidized by state and local taxpayers,  students pay much higher tuition, often funded by federal grants and loans.  Those who don’t find good jobs are at high risk of defaulting on their loans.

Top 10 higher ed stories of 2013

The rise of MOOCS lead Ed Central’s Top Ten Higher Ed Stories of 2013. “The massive open online courses have huge potential to bring learning to more people, and to do it cheaper.”

Also on the list is U.S. Department of Education approval for Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America, “the first school to award federal aid based on direct assessment of students’ learning.”

President Obama sent higher education stakeholders into a tizzy with his August announcement that the administration would implement a wide-ranging plan to get college costs under control. The centerpiece of the plan would rate colleges on a variety of metrics, and with Congressional approval, tie the ratings to financial aid eligibility.

Congress lowered interest rates on federal student loans and tied the rates to the market.

“Merit aid madness” benefits the wealthiest students.

(Colleges) “increasingly using their institutional financial aid as a competitive tool to reel in the top students, as well as the most affluent, to help them climb up the U.S. News & World Report rankings and maximize their revenue.

Other top stories are questions about the fairness of income-baseded repayment, policy changes for Parent PLUS loans, the rewrite of gainful employment regulations, data transparency and a OECD report “identifying one in six Americans as lacking basic skills necessary for the workforce.”

Ed Central proposes a college scoreboard design.

How to fix income-based repayment

The federal income-based repayment needs to change, write Jason Delisle and Alex Holt on EdCentral.

Under IBR (in its current form), the government will provide more in loan forgiveness to someone with a high income and a master’s degree than it will provide in Pell Grants to a student from a low-income family attending a four-year college. . . . those who borrow and spend more get larger government benefits than those who make more prudent choices or use their own money to finance a graduate degree.

Those large subsidies for graduate students should be redirected to struggling undergrads, they write. Once that’s done, IBR should be the universal repayment plan, not just an option for the savvy borrower.

Borrowers who take “public service” jobs receive loan forgiveness after 10 years instead of 20, no matter how much they earn, Delisle and Holt write. One out of four jobs count as “public service.”

A public service job is one with a federal, state, or local government agency, entity, or a non-profit organization with a 501(c)(3) designation, or a non-profit that provides: emergency management, military service, public safety, or law enforcement services; health services; education or library services; school-based services; public interest law services; early childhood education; public service for individuals with disabilities and the elderly. . . . PSLF applies to almost any job so long as it is not at a for-profit business.

Income-based repayment plans won’t ruin repayment rates for career programs, writes Ben Miller, who’s been tracking gainful employment negotiations.

Keep the “public service loophole” out of gainful employment regulations, Delisle advises.

The Education Department doesn’t want the public to know how much it pays its debt collectors, adds Persis Yu.

Negotiating gainful employment

New America Foundation’s Ben Miller is liveblogging the gainful employment negotiations at the U.S. Education Department. Sessions are expected to run through Wednesday.

Miller has more reporting on the proposed regulations, which will affect career programs at for-profit and community colleges.