Topic: Access to Higher Education
Case Date: March 1, 2006
Public Advocates helped draft, analyze, and now advocate for proposed U.S. Department of Education student financial aid program rules that would better protect students’ and taxpayers’ investment (in the form of Pell grants and student loans) in short term programs designed specifically to prepare people for work and to increase their earning capacity. These programs, especially those offered by for-profit career schools, give rise to a disproportional share of the problems of misrepresentation and consumer fraud, extreme loan burden, and default for largely low-income and minority students borrowers.
A proposed “gainful employment” rule implements requirements set by Congress and advances a common-sense principle: Federal financial aid shouldn’t go to career education programs that consistently leave students buried in debt they cannot repay.
The most controversial part of the effort is a proposed definition of the statutory term “gainful employment” (the goal for which these schools are supposedly preparing their students) that would compel schools whose graduates cannot repay their loans or make a reasonable income to improve their results or reduce their charges in order to remain eligible for federal student aid. The for-profit school industry is investing heavily in lobbying, citing the need to preserve program slots for minority and low-income students to get job training rather than cooperating to upgrade the standards of programs to which these students so often turn for enhanced opportunity.
Letter to President Obama
A broad coalition of more than 35 organizations that advocate for civil rights, consumers, veterans, students and college access, including Public Advocates, sent a letter to President Obama on January 26, 2011 urging his administration to issue a strong and enforceable “gainful employment” rule. The letter points out: “Numerous investigations have revealed pervasive abuses by some career education programs: deceptive and aggressive recruiting of students; inflated job placement rates and false reporting to authorities; overstatement of a program’s value and understatement of its high cost; and dismal completion rates. Too many of these programs are preying on low-income students, minority students, and veterans who are seeking to further their education and, by doing so, enhance their employment opportunities.”
The Obama administration plans to issue a final gainful employment regulation soon. It is under tremendous pressure from a well-financed barrage from the for-profit college industry to weaken the draft version published in late July.
National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity
President Jamienne Studley was appointed by Secretary Arne Duncan to the U.S. Department of Education National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), which held its second meeting February 3-4, 2011 in Washington, DC. NACIQI will play a key role in implementing and providing policy advice to the Department on the federal higher education accreditation process, including responsibility for “accrediting the accreditors.” Studley is on the policy sub-group that will help develop NACIQI’s advice to the Secretary on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and broad issues of higher education quality, assessment, funding and accountability policy to promote education quality for students and effective use of taxpayer funds.