Back in 2010 the U.S. Department of Education unveiled a set of proposed “gainful employment” rules requiring private for-profit colleges to meet mandated loan repayment rates and debt-to-earnings levels before their students could qualify for federal student aid.
The Obama administration’s latest college crusade claims it will help students. In reality, it’s a hostile takeover scheme attempting to impose onerous regulations on an important non-government sector of colleges. Even though the gainful employment regs were struck down in 2012 by Federal Judge Rudolph Contreras for being “arbitrary and capricious,” last year the Obama administration revived its crusade against what Duncan called “predatory” career colleges with proposed mandates that are no less arbitrary or capricious than their predecessors.
Under the new proposed regulations unveiled earlier this year, for students to qualify for federal aid career colleges must prove the estimated annual loan payments of graduates do not exceed 20 percent of their discretionary earnings, or 8 percent of their total earnings, and the default rate for former students does not exceed 30 percent.
Duncan justified the move saying that “of the for-profit gainful employment programs the Department could analyze and which could be affected by our action today, the majority—72 percent—produced graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker found that this claim didn’t come close to passing its Pinocchio Test.
Turns out, the Department of Education hasn’t learned its lesson about fudging the numbers. As Watchdog.org’s Bre Payton reports:
The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t know for sure how many comments the public submitted to it nearly four months ago about the controversial “gainful employment” rule.
Experts say the “witch-hunt” like rule ought to be able to stand up to feedback from those affected by it, but while the public comment period closed May 27, the department still hasn’t “counted up an exact figure” of comments received.
The department is instead “spending our time having conversations and crafting a rule that will best serve students,” a spokesman from the department said on background in an email to Watchdog.org. …
The department spokesman confirmed staff received “less than 100,000 comments this go-around.”
Advocates worry the department’s opaque treatment of these comments is not only a transparency issue, but a disservice to the rule-making process.
In all, if the gainful employment regulations take effect next year, more than 4 out of 10 students currently enrolled at private for-profit career colleges could lose access to federal financial aid because of gainful employment regulations. Over the next decade as many as 7.5 million students could lose access.
Most of private career college students are older adults, low-income, and they are typically the first in their families to attend college (pp. 9 and 23). Moreover, close to half of all career college students (49 percent) are high-risk students, compared to less than 20 percent at public and not-for-profit institutions.
Education Secretary Duncan’s rationalization for the sweeping regs also doesn’t pass muster. If, as he claims, most private, for-profit career programs are just fine, then why pass regulations at all?
This isn’t the first time the Obama administration has attempted a hostile education takeover.
Thanks to an Obamacare provision the U.S. Department of Education took over direct lending to students. Duncan insisted that the feds would be more efficient and cost-effective than private lenders, but costs actually went up. In recent years the Obama administration has also pushed interest rate freezes on federal student loans, which have done nothing to make a college education more affordable.
There’s no reason to believe this scheme will be any different, except in terms of more hardships and less opportunities for students.