A new set of rules that will strengthen federal student aid programs at for-profit, non-profit, and public institutions is being met with approval by student and education advocates, though some question the rules’ necessity.
Announced by the White House on Oct. 28, the broad new regulations came after an 18-month negotiation process with the higher education community and are designed to protect students from aggressive and misleading recruiting practices by providing them with better information about the effectiveness of career college and training programs, and ensuring that only the eligible students or programs receive financial aid. Addressing and regulating these issues will strengthen the integrity of the federal student aid program and ensure that taxpayer funds are used appropriately. These regulations are expected to go into effect on July 1, 2011.
Upper Marlboro resident, Angela Gathers, couldn’t be happier with the new regulations. Her son Brandon Gathers, a sophomore enrolled in Clark Atlanta University, could have benefited from these rules a year ago. “The cost of education did change his major,” she said. “He wanted to be an English major. But when he got into salaries and saw that the cost of the major was going to be more, he changed it.” Brandon Gathers is now majoring in criminal justice.
The Obama administration said it initiated the extended negotiation process after noticing the rapid growth of enrollment, debt load, and default rates at for-profit institutions in recent years. The administration reports students at for-profit institutions represent 11 percent of all higher education students, 26 percent of all student loans and 43 percent of all loan defaulters. The median federal student loan debt carried by students earning associate degrees at for-profit institutions was $14,000, while the majority of students at community colleges do not borrow. More than a quarter of for-profit institutions receive 80 percent of their revenues from taxpayer financed federal student aid.
According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “These new rules will help ensure that students are getting from schools what they pay for: solid preparation for a good job.”
The new regulations address 14 major issues including: the growth in production of fraudulent high school diploma mills, the removal of all “safe harbor” provisions surrounding incentive compensation, and strengthening the Education Department’s authority to take legal action against institutions that participate in deceptive advertising, marketing and sales practices.
The most popular topic, gainful employment, was only partially outlined. The regulations included under that section will mandate institutions to report information to students who start and complete an educational program. This information will include the cost, debt levels, graduation rates and placement rates.
“Let me be clear,” stated Education Secretary Arne Duncan, “We’re moving forward on gainful employment regulations. While a majority of career colleges play a vital role in training our workforce to be globally competitive, some bad actors are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use.”
Financial expert Dennis Jefferson, president of Christian Ashley, a Washington, D.C.-based financial services firm, does not see the need for the new gainful employment regulations and encourages consumers to research the financial benefits and drawbacks of their educational career on their own. “I don’t see a need for any mandate,” says Jefferson. “This is something that student should be doing anyway.” Jefferson offers two tips for any consumer looking to enroll in a for-profit institution. “Students should look at different sources for salary surveys, labor statistics, and demands for certain industries to see what the potential is. Then compare this information with the cost of the college. Also, students should consider going to several colleges. They don’t have to go to the most expensive institution. They should select one that’s more affordable, especially for the career they want.”
Recent Georgetown Law School graduate, Lindsay Hoagland agrees with Jefferson. After receiving two degrees, she has now accumulated over $230,000 in debt. However, she has no regrets. “I determined my own career path,” Hoagland said. “I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. It is not the full responsibility of the school to guide you and tell you how much money you should be making. That information is up to the student to determine. And that can be done on Google.” Hoagland is a participant of a private loan forgiveness program where, under certain conditions, Georgetown Law will pay the remainder of her loan after 10 years.