On Friday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos formally moved to end protections that shield vulnerable students from the unscrupulous tactics of for-profit colleges.
In a written statement posted on the department’s website and partially reprinted by The New York Times, the agency shared its plan to eliminate the ‘gainful employment’ rule. Created under the Obama administration, the rule forced for-profit schools to advertise information on students’ actual career prospects.
Under the Obama-era safeguard, institutions which couldn’t find gainful employment for a certain percentage of graduates were cut off from sources of federal funding and educational aid.
For-profit colleges like ITT Tech and Corinthians College were notorious for providing sub-par, scarcely-accredited educations with price-tags on par with Princeton and Yale. Students might be enticed by high placement rates—rates which would list a business major working as a waiter as having found employment in their ‘field.’
The Department of Education will allow 30 days for public feedback. If no critical changes are made, the Obama-era rule will be rolled back by July 1st, 2019.
DeVos’s alternative is offering prospective students information about all kinds of universities—not just those which work to turn a profit. Databases would compile the average debt, expected earnings, degree completion rates and program costs of schools across the country.
Critics have been quick to point out that DeVos’s idea doesn’t build much on anything that already exists.
Nevertheless, Secretary DeVos will likely do what she’s done throughout her tenure—lift restrictions on predatory corporations at the expense of students and educators.
“Students deserve useful and relevant data when making important decisions about their education post-high school,” DeVos said. “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.”
But as the New York Times notes, the rule’s rescission removes the greatest accountability measure there is—the denial of federal financial aid for schools which promise particular career outcomes but leave practically unemployable students burdened by massive debt.
Even Steve Gunderson, the president of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the for-profit education industry’s trade association, told the Times that the gainful employment rule had its intended effect.
“The other side should declare victory and go home,” he said. “The reality is every school that has a program that was failing gainful employment metrics—and they knew it couldn’t be fixed—they’ve already closed. The sector is so much better.”
However, former Obama administration caution any premature declaration of victory, no matter the industry’s own assurances.
“By withdrawing the gainful employment regulations, the Trump administration is once again choosing the interests of executives and shareholders of predatory for-profit higher education institutions over protecting students and taxpayers,” said John King, Secretary of Education under Barack Obama.
King also called Devos’s planned rollback “outrageous and irresponsible.”
While DeVos’s decision is criticized by educators, she’s won the praise of some Republicans in Congress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN-R) called the choice good business, explaining that it removed the sorts of “clumsy regulations” conservatives are wont to repeal.