The Department of Education (ED) last month announced plans to rescind gainful employment (GE) regulations, and instead update the College Scorecard, or a similar web tool, to include program-level data for all schools participating in Title IV student aid programs. In response to a call for public comment, NASFAA wrote to ED Thursday to express its concern over voiding the rules entirely, and urged Congress to take an active role in sanctioning poorly-performing programs.
While ED cited concerns about the validity of the debt-to-earnings metric, job placement rate misreporting, institutional burden, and differing impacts of the GE regulations on academic programs as reasons for rescinding the regulations, NASFAA wrote in its comments that it does not believe that “all of these challenges are insurmountable and should necessarily lead to a complete rescission of gainful employment sanctions for low-performing programs.”
“Recognizing the flaws in the current GE rule should lead to a search for better methods to identify and eliminate bad actors, not as a justification to allow them to continue operating,” NASFAA wrote. “Students and taxpayers deserve protection from programs that waste public funds while saddling students with high debt and little to show for the money, time, and effort they invested in their education.”
Instead, NASFAA proposed that a combination of metrics could be used to determine a program’s success in serving students. While NASFAA wrote that it applauded ED’s intentions to increase transparency in higher education with the update to the College Scorecard, it argued that this should be done in addition to sanctions for low-performing programs, and not in place of them.
In fact, NASFAA included several questions and concerns in its comments about ED’s intentions for the College Scorecard. For example, NASFAA questioned how ED would present debt and earnings at the program level while the other data on the site is at the institutional level, and whether the tool would be expanded to include certificate programs and graduate and professional programs, which were not mentioned in the proposed rule. Further, NASFAA cited a 2017 study in its comments that showed that supplying students with more knowledge about student outcomes did not influence their college decisions.
Additionally, NASFAA pushed for Congress to play a role in more clearly defining gainful employment, arguing in its comments that “the proposed elimination of the GE rule exemplifies the dangers of the executive branch developing complex policies without clear guidance from Congress.”
“The turbulent history of the GE regulations, along with the changing political winds, begs for Congressional intervention, to make clear their intent for the meaning and measurement of gainful employment before any further administrative attempts are made to regulate in this area,” NASFAA wrote.
NASFAA argued that Congress, not ED, should be responsible for choosing which programs to regulate and sanction, as well as who should be “working to keep bad actors from entering the higher education domain in the first place.”
“While sanctions eventually penalize programs that do not deliver on their educational promises, they come too late for the students who must suffer harm in order to demonstrate that program’s failure, while significant taxpayer dollars are wasted in the process,” NASFAA added. “Solving how we measure whether a student is gainfully employed would be easier if the gates to Title IV eligibility were stronger upfront, which necessitates a more definitive eligibility standard for institutions.”
NASFAA also responded in its comments to questions ED posed in the proposed rule, such as whether institutions should be required to provide data included in the GE regulations, like competition and withdrawal rates, on individual programs’ websites, as well as whether a program prepares students for state licensure. NASFAA wrote that it opposed this idea because it was at odds with ED’s own intentions to reduce burden for institutions, especially if expanded to include all programs. NASFAA also responded to ED’s request about the accuracy of its burden estimates and wrote that while it is true that the burden on schools for program disclosures would be reduced from more than three million hours to zero hours, this would only be so if ED did not add on the new, aforementioned disclosure requirements for program websites.
If ED publishes the final rule by Nov. 1, 2018, the new rule could become effective on July 1, 2019.
Publication Date: 9/14/2018