The Gainful Employment Rule is back in the headlines, at least within the higher education sphere. According to a fact sheet provided by the Institute for College Access & Success (ICAS), the current Higher Education Act requires that all career education programs receiving federal student aid — many of which are for-profit institutions — “prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.”
Watching all the changes connected to this Rule has been akin to watching a tennis match over the past six years, and it looks like there’s more to come.
Obama Enacts Gainful Employment Rule
In 2015, the Obama Administration enacted the Gainful Employment Rule to protect unsuspecting students from unscrupulous for-profit predatory institutions.
Needless to say, for-profit institutions hated the Gainful Employment Rule. Why? Because they could no longer rake in huge sums of tuition money, much of which came directly from the federal government, without accountability.
In other words, they could no longer enroll unsuspecting students, issue a diploma that often wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, and leave bewildered graduates out in the cold and unable to find work. To make matters worse, these graduates were then saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
Data generated from the Education Department and crunched by the ICAS confirm that more than 350,000 students who graduated between 2010 and 2012 fell prey to predatory, low-quality for-profit institutions. These institutions could be categorized as the “bottom of the barrel” in terms of academic quality. They were dangerously close to losing their accreditation, meaning they could no longer qualify to receive federal financial aid money.
Just how much taxpayer money did those for-profits rake in from those unsuspecting graduates who had worked so hard to make a better life for themselves and their families? Nearly $7.5 billion. The result was 350,000 men and women who found themselves strapped down in student loan debt and unable to find work. These individuals were often first-generation college students and people of color.
Keep in mind that these figures are only for program completers (graduates). The data would be far higher if we included those who began programs and then for whatever reason had to drop out.
New Administration, New Policy on Gainful Employment
The for-profit world was ecstatic when Donald Trump appointed Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. Because of her background in the for-profit education business, they already viewed her as a friend. It took very little lobbying to convince her that higher education institutions shouldn’t be held accountable for their graduates’ success.
As a result, in 2019 the Trump Administration rescinded the Gainful Employment Rule and immediately allowed schools to stop complying. It’s now as if the rule had never existed. In fact, when running a search for Gainful Employment here’s a screenshot of what you will currently find on the Education Department website:
As a result, predatory for-profits have been allowed to play in the sandbox unfettered for two years without any gainful employment accountability.
To sweeten the deal even more, the Trump Administration’s Education Department also rolled back another Obama-era decision to shut down the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). This particular accrediting body caters to for-profit predators who can’t earn accreditation from other bodies. Their efforts are mostly rubber-stamped and institutions aren’t held accountable for outcomes. I’ve written previously about ACICS and the institutions it has granted accreditation in ACICS: It’s Time to Pull the Plug and The Dominoes That Didn’t Have to Fall: Vatterott College, the ECA, and Others Like Them.
Rescinding the Gainful Employment Rule and ACICS went hand-in-glove.
Another New Administration, Another New Policy
According to reporting in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Biden Administration will likely take steps to reverse the damage caused by the rescission of the Gainful Employment Rule, but it won’t happen overnight.
The process will require a lengthy rule-making process and if approved, won’t take effect until at least mid-2022.
That gives the predatory for-profit world enough time to mount a defense through highly-paid lobbyists. Their efforts can sway public opinion and lawmakers’ minds.
If reinstating the Gainful Employment Rule was as easy as it was to rescind it, we could protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of victimized students. We could also save billions of taxpayer dollars that continue to fatten the bank accounts of for-profit presidents.
About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).