Dems split on 'gainful employment' rules

Democrats in the House can’t reach agreement about upcoming regulations designed to cut off federal funds to poorly performing college programs.

Lawmakers are lining up on opposite sides of the effort, with some encouraging the Department of Education to finalize the contentious regulations and others hoping for a rewrite of the draft rules.

Separate letters in recent days have highlighted the split, with contrasting messages for the Obama administration as it tries to write rules holding for-profit schools and career training programs accountable for the education they offer. The regulations would outline what type of “gainful employment” graduates of those programs will need to have for their schools to continue receiving federal money.


“I think it’s refreshing,” Rep. Robert AndrewsRobert (Rob) Ernest AndrewsFirst Muslim and Arab woman elected to Colorado state legislature Bottom line Former Rep. Andrews registers as lobbyist MORE (D-N.J.) told The Hill on Tuesday about the lack of a single party position. “I think if people are actually looking at this on the merits and not taking a knee-jerk party position, I think that’s a good thing.”

On Friday, he and 29 other Democrats wrote a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan worrying that the administration’s effort could “negatively impact millions of students nationwide.”

Meanwhile, 31 other House Democrats wrote a separate note arguing that the rule “will help protect student and taxpayer investments in career education programs and enforce current law.”

Supporters say that the rule is necessary to prevent some schools from ripping students off and leaving them saddled with debt but unable to get a good job. But Democrats pushing for revisions worry that the rule, while well intended, would use imperfect metrics and could rely too heavily on the administration's upcoming college rating system.

Many Republicans, meanwhile, have told the administration to entirely abandon its effort, arguing that the rules could end up hurting students.

The Education Department is expected to release a draft regulation early in the new year.

It would be the administration’s second try at a “gainful employment” rule.  A federal judge struck down the administration’s previous attempt last year.

That “wasted a lot of time and money and effort,” Andrews said.

He said that Congress would ultimately be responsible for defining "gainful employment" when it reauthorizes the Higher Education Act, the nearly 50-year-old law that governs federal student aid, which is up for renewal in 2014.

“I’d rather us try to compromise and write a statutory definition that serves the purpose of the system,” he said.