I imagine many Americans will have taken a trip to the cinema in recent years to be wowed by the amazing developments that have occurred in the last decade alone in the audio and visual industry. One only need sit for a few extra minutes after a hot blockbuster film like Marvel's recent "Guardians of the Galaxy" to see just how much work goes into producing one of these high-caliber films by hundreds of talented audio and visual artists. Now, imagine that I told you that the administration is currently pursuing regulations that would severely restrict the ability of many of these artists to access the necessary training and skills to pursue a successful career in this highly competitive field. Sound outrageous? Unfortunately, it could become a reality before the end of the year.

The entire premise behind the Department of Education's "gainful employment" regulation is to single out and cut off federal student aid for allegedly "bad acting" programs that leave students with massive debt and little job prospects. Excellent in theory; less so when the unintended and potentially devastating consequences of the rule are considered.


What the department and the administration have failed to consider in their campaign against the for-profit education industry is the collateral damage that would result from shutting down these so-called "bad acting" programs. As illustrated by the recent closures of Corinthian Colleges and Anthem Education, federal student aid acts as a lifeblood for these institutions; shutting off the flow of money would likely result in a system-wide collapse that leaves thousands of students reeling without a viable option to continue their education. The administration's tendency to try to pick winners and losers has proven to be nothing but detrimental thus far, so why should the public expect it to be any different when it comes to education?

The rule also fails to account for the types of jobs for which these programs prepare students. Important careers including nursing, culinary and audio/visual production require high-level skills training but may not pay huge salaries in the entry-level roles that the majority of students take. While reality television shows have given the American public a glamorized view of how much money a chef can make, most start out working long hours for lower pay before they can even think of opening their own restaurant. Celebrity chefs didn't gain their status overnight, so why is the administration penalizing students by shutting down their programs for failing to meet arbitrary metrics in the first three years post-graduation?

According to a recent study from the Parthenon Group, the rule's proposed metrics are effective at measuring the type of students enrolled in a program, but do little to measure the success of the program in preparing its students for gainful employment. As the same study astutely points out, a multitude of past studies, including many commissioned by the department, have proven that student characteristics have a large bearing on outcomes. As for-profit institutions serve predominantly minority students, the rule would, in effect, penalize for-profits for providing opportunities to these underserved and often overlooked students. Ultimately, the rules would single out programs that primarily serve minority students and important professions that have lower starting salaries, and would lead to the collapse of entire institutions with no clear plan for the students affected.

While the department's drive to promote affordable education is admirable, their all-too-frequent missteps have erected more barriers to the middle class than they have broken down. Its handling of Federal PLUS loans had catastrophic effects on many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the students they serve, and now reports show that the department is forcing senior citizens with defaulted student loans into poverty by withholding their Social Security benefits. A government audit conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed that nearly 22,000 Americans age 65 and older had a large chunk of their Social Security benefits withheld last year in order to pay for outstanding student loans, placing them below the federal poverty thresholds. Many of these baby boomers have already had to forgo saving for their own retirement in order to help pay for their children's education, and now they are being placed in a perilous position by the department's inability to grasp the wider scope of its actions.

Reports like the one mentioned above illustrate the severity and seriousness of the growing student debt problem in this country. However, the administration and the department thus far have failed to provide a real solution. Regulations that discriminate against an entire sector and severely restrict opportunities are not the answer. Rather than penalizing an entire sector for a few bad actors, the department should take a broader look at the issue and work with Congress to overhaul the Higher Education Act.

Alford is the president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.