Lawmakers: New college rules will ‘fail’ students

The Obama administration is taking heat from Republicans and Democrats over new rules that target colleges and universities that do not prepare students for finding jobs after graduation.

While the so-called “gainful employment” regulations from the Department of Education released Thursday are intended to prevent graduates from being “buried in debt,” lawmakers said the rules will “fail” students.

Schools will be required to show their students are earning enough money upon graduation to comfortably pay for their student loans. But critics say the rules unfairly target for-profit private schools, while turning a blind eye to public universities.

One of the biggest concerns is that the rules will undercut successful college programs, because the students don’t make much money immediately after graduation even though their salaries could increase as their careers progress.

“If the administration wants to weed out bad actors among the 6,000 public and private colleges and universities, this is not the way to do it,” said Tennessee Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWeek ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare Time to end fiscal year foolishness MORE, the top Republican on the Senate Health committee.

“This regulation could shut down a bachelor’s degree nursing program at a for-profit institution but not one in exactly the same circumstances at a non-profit or public institution,” he added.

Under the new rules set to go into effect on July 1, 2015, graduation rates, the salaries of former students and how much student debt they have will be monitored to determine the effectiveness of a particular college degree.

The Education Department estimates nearly 1,400 college programs serving some 840,000 students will fail the new requirements, which could ultimately lead to lost federal aid unless steps are taken to correct the problem.

This could be problematic for many students who find themselves “kicked out” of their college because it no longer offers the degree of their choice, Alexander said.

Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinOrrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate Democrats are all talk when it comes to DC statehood The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Iowa) and a number of other Democrats also criticized the gainful employment rules, saying they miss the mark. They said the rules are a “step in the right direction” but “do not go far enough” to protect students.

As chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Harkin investigated the issue in 2012, finding that many private school students graduated with “high debt but questionable earning power.”

Harkin said the gainful employment rules could reduce student debt but will do little to improve the quality of education students are receiving.

“Today’s action by the Department of Education seeks to address the first problem, but does little to ensure that colleges stop offering poor quality programs where most of the students drop out,” Harkin said in a statement.

Private schools and student groups have also attacked the gainful employment rules.