With just over a week to go before the Department of Education (ED) will close the public comment period on its proposal to rescind gainful employment (GE) regulations, a student advocacy group yesterday submitted a petition arguing that the proposal be voided completely on the grounds that it violated a federal requirement to publish accurate, sourced information.
The National Student Legal Defense Network (NSLDN) wrote in a letter Wednesday that ED should revoke its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for the GE regulations and issue a corrected version if desired because it “includes an abundance of factual claims without disclosing the underlying sources or methodologies,” which is a violation of the Office of Management and Budget’s Information Quality Act (IQA). The group added that “where the NPRM does cite sources, it still violates the IQA by repeatedly stating conclusions that are not clearly supported by the evidence.”
“[T]hese failures render meaningless the entire purpose of the public comment period,” the letter said.
The group wrote that while the 2014 NPRM for the GE regulations met federal requirements by utilizing “extensive peer-reviewed, statistical information” to inform the rule, such as data on “high tuition costs, poor outcomes, and deceptive practices at some institutions in the for-profit sector to illustrate why its concern with GE programs at those institutions in particular was justified, rather than biased,” this proposed rule “stands in stark contrast to the Department’s earlier rulemaking efforts.”
“[T]he Department’s NPRM is filled with examples of information that are not supported by sources, do not stand for the proposition cited, fail to explain the methodology used, or otherwise are not ‘accompanied by information that allows an external user to understand clearly the information and be able to reproduce it, or understand the steps involved in producing it,’” the group wrote.
In the petition, the group pointed to 26 statements included in the NPRM that they considered to be in violation of the federal guidelines.
For example, the GE regulations published in 2014 used students’ debt-to-earnings (D/E) ratios to determine an institutional program's eligibility for Title IV aid. The NPRM stated that one reason for rescinding the rule was that “the first D/E rates were published in 2017, and the Department’s analysis of those rates raises concerns about the validity of the metric, and how it affects opportunities for Americans to prepare for high-demand occupations in the healthcare, hospitality, and personal services industries, among others.” In the petition, the group argued that this statement “fails to clearly identify data sources” and “fails to clearly describe the research study approach or data collection technique,” among other issues.
The group also highlighted many other statements that they argued lacked specific sources, such as ED’s statement that “the highest quality programs could fail the D/E rates measures simply because it costs more to deliver the highest quality program and as a result the debt level is higher,” and that “increased availability of [income-driven] repayment plans with longer repayment timelines is inconsistent with the repayment assumptions reflected in the shorter amortization periods used for the D/E rates calculation in the GE regulations.”
In lieu of the GE regulations, ED proposed it would update the College Scorecard, or a similar web tool, to include program-level data for all schools accepting federal funds, whereas now the online resource only provides institution-level data. The group, however, challenged the sources and statistical evidence behind ED’s conclusion that “the best way to provide disclosures to students is through a data tool that is populated with data that comes directly from the Department.”
The comment period for the NPRM for the GE regulations closes September 13. NASFAA will publish the comments it sent to ED in the coming weeks.
Publication Date: 9/6/2018