Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ decision to scrap the federal gainful employment regulations wasn’t just a step back in holding institutions accountable for student outcomes—it ensures no for-profit institution can lose access to federal funds, no matter how poorly it performs, argue former Education Secretary Arne Duncan and David Whitman, Duncan’s former speechwriter, in a new report.
The report, published Wednesday by the Brookings Institution, takes a strong stance against DeVos and the Trump administration’s decision to not just scale back, but wipe out the federal regulations, which sought to impose sanctions on career and vocational programs that failed to meet certain outcome thresholds. In the paper, Duncan and Whitman argued that the decision not only walks away from accountability standards, but also conservative principles.
“Her elimination of federal sanctions for low-performing programs marks a complete flip-flop from the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, which insisted on accountability for federal dollars and regulated outcomes like unfettered student debt in the federal student loan program,” they wrote.
They went on to say that the Trump administration’s defense of rolling back the gainful employment regulations—also shared by many Republican lawmakers—is a revival of Democrats’ defense of those same institutions from three decades ago. The argument was, and is, that “for-profit schools expand educational choice for disadvantaged students, and the poor performance of some programs merely reflects the demographics of their students and not the quality of the programs themselves.”
Democrats, however, ended their defense “in the face of overwhelming evidence that recruiting abuses and student debt burdens were heavily concentrated in the for-profit sector, even after taking account of student demographics.”
Duncan and Whitman said ending gainful employment sanctions is also an abandonment of a long-held conservative principle of fiscal responsibility, arguing that without sanctions, a for-profit institution won’t risk losing federal student aid no matter how poorly it performs.
They also argued that rolling back the regulations would cost the federal government $5.3 billion in student loans and Pell Grants in the next 10 years that would have been withheld from the poorest performing programs.
DeVos has argued that institutions would still be held accountable through changes to what’s reported on the College Scorecard, saying in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that the expanded set of information would “inform student enrollment decisions through a market-based accountability system.”
Duncan and Whitman pushed back on that idea, saying research has not shown that transparency without sanctions can have a noticeable impact on student behavior, and that the absence of any sanctions would ultimately hurt students.
“In the absence of federal standards like the gainful employment rule, poorly performing for-profit programs will resume taking advantage of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable students anew,” they wrote.
Publication Date: 10/18/2018