Gainful employment rule blocks nation's real priorities

These are all attainable goals, but lately, Congress and policymakers in Washington have gone astray. Just a month ago, the Department of Education wrote a new regulation, known as the “gainful employment” rule that will cause millions of students to lose out on badly-needed financial aid to attend private sectorcolleges and universities. If students who graduate from these programs do not meet a one-size-fits-all debt-to-future-income ratio requirement, the programs will be forced to close and students will have fewer options for furthering their education and career endeavors.

The result of this misguided rule could not be clearer: less financial aid and fewer vocational training programs means diminishing college graduates and a lessskilled American workforce.

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Unfortunately, the process on which this new regulation was based has proven flawed from the start. This week, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) will heed our call for hearings on the matter by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. This is an encouraging first step and we hope the hearing will focus on theissues relating to the “gainful employment” rule.

First, members of Congress should look at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that unfairly characterized career colleges. The report was used as a basis for the Education Department’s rulemaking but has since been found to contain numerous factual inaccuracies. The office subsequently edited and re-released the report, significantly diminishing the negative outlook on private sector schools. Committee members must decipher the rushed and dubious nature of this report, and be sure that good policy – not politics – was the defining factor. The evidence is not encouraging.

Second, the hearing should focus on the outsized influence Wall Street short-sellers had on the rule-making process. Financiers who stand to make millions betting against the stocks of private sector schools and universities should never be permitted to have a voice in Congressional hearings that influence policy outcomes. But that is exactly what happened over the course of this debate. The gall and the greed of short-sellers who seek to benefit from policies that will hinder the ability of many Americans to attain college degrees are beyond reproach. 

Most importantly, the hearings on the new “gainful employment” regulation should focus on the adverse effect these rules will have on the economy and jobs. Private sector schools play a vital role in offering training for students who seek jobs that require specialized skills.

These schools have proven to be leaders in educating students in fields where the economy is actually adding jobs, or, where a vacuum has arisen as a result of a lack of qualified candidates – job sectors like health services, computer occupations and technology.

Though the “gainful employment” rule has been published and is now in effect, it is not too late to take a hard look at the harm this regulation will cause to students, the economy and job prospects in America.  And it is certainly not too late to investigate the unseemly process that led to this misguided rule.
 
This week’s hearing should be the beginning of a newprocess that will focus on creating higher education opportunities, not curtailing them, will ensure there is a trained workforce ready to fill the skilled positions needed going forward, and will investigate why actions were taken that are impeding those objectives.

Henry Herzing is the chancellor of Herzing University, which is a member of the Student Access Student Choice coalition.