Congress Takes Another Stab At Undercutting Gainful Employment Rules Two Weeks Before Implementation

The Department of Education’s long-awaited gainful employment rules – aimed at reining in the for-profit college industry – go into effect on July 1. But just because there are only 14 days before implementation, doesn’t mean those opposed to the regulations are giving up their fight.

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday released a spending bill that would prohibit the Dept. of Education from enforcing protections designed to ensure career colleges do a better job of preparing students for gainful employment, or risk losing access to taxpayer-funded federal student aid, the Washington Post reports.

According to the bill [PDF], the Dept. of Education would not be allowed to use its funding to “implement, administer, or enforce the final regulations” related to gainful employment.

That includes preventing the Department from moving forward with establishing a college ratings system, placing new requirements on teacher preparation, defining “credit hour,” and dictating how states must license institutions of higher education.

While gainful employment rules will still go into effect as planed on July 1, if the proposed provisions gain approval and are signed into law, the new protections would be repealed in October. The Post reports that it is unlikely the President would actually allow the provisions to take effect.

In addition to revoking protections for many students, the Committee’s spending bill would likely make it more difficult for students to even attend college, as the measure includes a provision to cut nearly $370 million in student financial assistance.

“This legislation continues our efforts to reduce wasteful spending, to stop harmful and unnecessary regulations that kill jobs and impede economic growth, and to make wise investments in proven programs on behalf of the American taxpayer,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky tells the Post in a statement.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tells the Post that it is “truly mind-boggling” that Congress continues to fight the needed potations despite the plethora of issues plaguing the for-profit college industry.

“Make no mistake: a vote for this proposal is a vote to leave students in the dark and taxpayers holding the bag,” he says. “Both deserve better.”

Consumer advocates also shared their disappointment that legislators continue to opposed the gainful employment rules.

“It is hard to fathom how today’s FY2016 House appropriations bill could cut student aid by hundreds of millions of dollars and block common-sense regulations designed to protect students and taxpayers from getting ripped off by programs at predatory schools, like those at now-shuttered Corinthian Colleges,” Lauren Asher, president of The Institute for College Access & Success, says in a statement [PDF].

The Dept. of Education has faced many hurdles on its way to crafting gainful employment rules.

The protections taking effect next month are the Department’s second attempt to rein in for-profit colleges that benefit from financial aid to students without providing them the education needed to find gainful employment after graduation.

A federal judge blocked major provisions of the first rules in 2012, forcing the department to start over.

The finalized rules, which were introduced in March 2014, set forth requirements that institutions must certify that all career-education programs meet applicable accreditation requirements, along with state and/or federal licensure standards.

Programs would be deemed failing if loan payments of typical graduates exceed 30% of discretionary income or 12% of total annual income. Programs would be given a warning if a student’s loan payments amount to 20 to 30% of discretionary income, or 8 to 12% of total annual income. Discretionary income is defined as above 150% of the poverty line and applies to what can be put towards non-necessities.

For sake of an example, say the typical recent graduate of a career education program earns $28,000. Those graduates would need to average below $2,240 in annual student loan payments for the school to be out of the warning zone. If those same graduates are paying an average of more than $3,360 a year in loan payments, that school would be at risk for losing federal aid funds.

Additionally, institutions must publicly disclose information about the program costs, debt, and performance of their career education programs so that students can make informed decisions.

Of course, the Dept. has seen several attempts by the for-profit industry to weaken the rules, including two lawsuits files in November 2014.

Last month, a district court judge threw out one of the lawsuits, which aimed diminish provisions that would penalize for-profits if too many of their graduates failed to succeed. The second lawsuit, which contends that the rule is “unlawful, arbitrary and irrational,” is still pending.

The toughest for-profit college rules in years are here. And lawmakers are still fighting over them. [The Washington Post]
House FY16 Education Funding Bill Blocks Gainful Employment Rule, Cuts Student Aid [TICAS]

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