Accountability: A new four-letter word?

We recently attended the U.S. Department of Education’s negotiated rulemaking on “program integrity,” which is supposed to put some teeth back into the regulations that determine which colleges can – and can’t — participate in federal student aid programs. Only students at participating colleges and in eligible programs can get federal grants and loans. Some of these regulations apply mainly to for-profit schools, which have the highest student debt and default levels and get most of their revenue from taxpayer-financed student aid.

Since the last rulemaking session, the topic of ‘gainful employment’ has gotten a lot of attention. Put simply, it’s the idea that college programs designed to prepare students for specific kinds of jobs (e.g., auto mechanics, chefs) actually do, and that the majority of students who attend those programs aren’t left high and dry at the end of the day with only a lot of debt and a worthless credential to show for it.

Some people are calling the Department’s proposals a form of “price control”, saying that they would effectively cap the amount students could borrow, which would in turn cap the tuition colleges could charge for these programs. Putting aside the question of the Department’s specific proposal for now, since when did merely questioning the return on investment – both the student’s and taxpayer’s – become an attack on the free market? For more on just why we need better rules in this area, check out this new item from Higher Ed Watch: Students vs. Shareholders at Publicly Traded Career Colleges.

Debbie Cochrane

Program Director

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