Blog

Gainful Rule Is Exactly What Students of Color Need

Originally posted on The Equity Line 

Enough with the argument that the proposed gainful employment regulation is a disservice to black, brown, and low-income students. What the National Black Chamber of Commerce has billed as unfairly targeting students of color is, in reality, an opportunity to better the institutions that serve them. The regulation would finally develop minimum standards for cost and quality for thousands of career education programs, many of which leave students hugely underprepared for work and in a deep hole of debt that is almost impossible to climb out of.

A majority of career education programs at for-profit colleges — 72 percent — produce graduates earning less on average than high school dropouts. That’s a lot of African American, Latino, and low-income students who are being poorly served by programs that promise to prepare them for “gainful employment in a recognized career.” The department’s new rule would ensure that students who are taking on this much debt are also prepared to find work so they can reasonably pay off their debt. If not, the career education programs that fail to prepare students for gainful employment and show no improvement would eventually lose their eligibility to receive federal financial aid.

Currently, for-profit colleges consume 24 percent of taxpayer-funded, federal student aid, but they enroll just 10 percent of all undergraduates. They also account for nearly half of all federal student loan defaults. Students who earn bachelor’s degrees at for-profit colleges have far more debt ($30,500) than students who graduate from public ($10,000) and nonprofit ($21,000) institutions. The fact that career education programs at for-profit colleges fare much worse than public sector colleges under this new rule (which sets a minimum percentage of how much a graduating class, in the aggregate, should be able to pay back their loans) speaks to the quality and costs of programs, not the quality of students enrolling in the programs.

The department has been working on the gainful employment rule for more than five years, and although it has been a long, hard struggle, these students are worth fighting for. Students who have historically been shut out of higher education by traditional colleges and universities cluster to for-profit colleges because they are promised the “opportunity” of landing a well-paying job. Almost 40 percent of undergraduates at for-profit institutions are underrepresented minorities and almost 60 percent are Pell Grant recipients. One out of 5 black or Hispanic higher ed students begins their postsecondary education at a for-profit college. Similarly, 2 out of 5 Pell recipients start their careers at for-profit colleges. The problem is that once these students sign on the dotted line, far too few get real opportunities. They end up leaving college with lots of debt and a worthless credential — if they end up with a degree at all.

Propping up bad-acting programs as friends to vulnerable college student populations is offensive. My goodness, with friends like that, who needs enemies?