ED’s plan to nix gainful employment regs

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (Photo: BetsyDeVos.com)

The U.S. Education Department (ED) on Friday announced its proposal to rescind the so-called “gainful employment” (GE) regulations — a move that was much anticipated.

An ED press release stated that the proposed rules would rescind the regulation to “provide useful, transparent higher education data to students and treat all institutions of higher education fairly.”

The regulations, originally promulgated by the Obama administration, were largely designed to ensure that for-profit institutions were not burdening students with loans that they could not repay, as well as make available to students more data about GE programs. The programs could be cut off from federal funding if the average debt-to-earnings ratio of their graduates stayed above a certain limit for two out of three straight years. It also required schools to disclose debt, earnings, completion and other program data, to help students avoid programs with poor outcomes.

However, all Title IV-eligible certificate programs at community colleges also fall under the rules, and some public two-year colleges have encountered considerable burdens complying with the reporting requirements.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has sought to make the regulation less costly. It has also proposed alternative ways to gather needed data on all college programs as part of its recommendations to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. This includes creating a unit record data system linked to graduate earnings. AACC is also advocating for institutional flexibility to reduce student loan amounts in defined circumstances.

Not a good measure

In Friday’s action, the Trump administration argued that the debt-to-earning metric used in the GE regulation was not a helpful measure and that the previous regulations were overly burdensome. Instead, the department wants to expand data collected and shared on its College Scorecard, to include program level information at all institutions participating in federal student aid programs. That would include enrollments, completion rate, cost, accreditation, and whether the program meets the requirements for state licensure. Median debt and median earnings also would be included.

“Students deserve useful and relevant data when making important decisions about their education post-high school,” said U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “That’s why instead of targeting schools simply by their tax status, this administration is working to ensure students have transparent, meaningful information about all colleges and all programs. Our new approach will aid students across all sectors of higher education and improve accountability.”

Push back and praise

Opponents of the proposal were quick to attack the proposed rollback, saying it loosens accountability and helps shoddy programs keep their doors open.

“With each new action, Secretary DeVos makes clearer that her allegiances are to for-profit college executives first, taxpayers last, and students never,” said Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network, a coalition of Obama-era Education Department officials.

James Kvaal, president of the nonprofit Institute For College Access and Success, said the Obama administration’s rule protected students from getting swamped with loans and had already spurred programs to improve.

“The administration put its cards on the table today, and it’s clear that it has little interest in protecting students or taxpayers from excessive, unaffordable student debts,” Kvaal said.

But the news was welcomed by some in the for-profit college industry, which fiercely opposed the rule under Obama.

Steve Gunderson, president of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the industry’s biggest lobbying group, said the proposal widens transparency and “could be the most significant consumer protection for all college students in all colleges and all programs.”

“Now is the time to move beyond ideological attacks on any one sector of higher education and establish a uniform commitment to transparency of outcomes that can stand the test of time,” he said.

ED said it will be gathering public input on the proposal for the next 30 days.  AACC will comment on the rule.

Associated Press reports are used in this article.

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