Blog: ‘Gainful Employment’ Situation Epitomizes Democrats’ Missteps, Poor Election Showing

By Kevin Kuzma, Editor

The science that is so often affiliated with politics is really nothing more than guesswork. The media frequently quotes polls and research. We’ve all learned about political cycles occurring throughout history. We can observe trends from previous elections and politicians who in different eras face disparate challenges. The analysis of all the gathered material leads to findings of some kind and, often, projections are offered.

But science needn’t be consulted when you can easily sense feelings turnings bad and see for yourself a presidential administration that’s overreached its bounds on a number of fronts. The U. S. Department of Education (DOE) and its battle with "for-profit" schools over the "gainful employment" rule managed to turn a finely tuned sector of higher education into the epitome of the Democrats’ misguided judgment.

Coming into Election Day, it felt as though the amassing ill will toward the president and a lackluster Congress was greater than the staunchest Democrat’s ability to dig their fingers in and hold onto their spot. The question was how bad would the beating be? How many seats would the Republicans take? The answer, we knew, would likely be enough to take over the House. But would it be enough for the Senate, too?

For those in “for-profit” education, there was an assumption that a Republican vote would be what was needed to change the direction of the DOE’s “gainful employment” rule. The logic here is that more Republicans in office mean more people not afraid of business or profit-driven entities would be taking over seats for those who considered profits disparaging. Our industry was hoping against the Obama agenda, which is willfully pushing career education toward a cliff.

Yesterday’s vote came from a groundswell of bad feelings toward Washington – feelings like the ones our industry feels. Ironically, the higher education front came to epitomize the sort of frustration that fueled yesterday’s vote. Tuesday’s vote-off of the Democrats perfectly displayed the cause and effect of what we’ve seen in the for-profit education sector. The Obama administration simply overreached its bounds on a whole host of issues, from health care or the environment or banking, let’s say … something now seems wrong with everything.

In this mid-term election, there was direct outrage at the President from members inside his own party, and Democratic candidates who publicly denounced his support. They weren’t on board with his agenda. Fewer and fewer people were. The momentum the Democratic Party carried into the Obama era crashed into a Washington-sized wall. The policies the president wanted to forward weren’t what the people wanted. Somehow, Washington’s reputation managed to suffer even further with the lack of performance from Congress, even with its reputation already for wasteful spending and corruption.

The shift toward the Republicans will translate to gains for for-profit schools – more elected officials pushing policies friendly to a flexible mode of education that more and more students are choosing – and that happens to boost the bottom line. This vote should show the Obama administration it needs to rethink its policies. All of them, especially the ones it’s been insistent on. The ones that have received the most scrutiny – consider the 90,000 letters during the public comment period for the “gainful employment” rule – and push those to the top of the list for reconsideration.

Where the president sees an opportunity for realignment, we see a double standard and flawed logic. The brawl over the “gainful employment” rule has been unfairly directed at career education. When the economy turned cold in 2007, some very intelligent people returned to colleges in droves. Some working students chose “for-profit” schools, and the success of these institutions quickly drew the attention of four-year schools when renowned universities like Harvard began eliminating staff. The answer (or is it a problem?) the Democrats are looking for is not in Title IV financial aid allotments. Nor is it in community colleges that would only fumble with preparing students for careers.

The Democrats have ignored their fair share of poll numbers. They were dead set on pushing forward in the face of opposition and sometimes logic. Moving forward, this administration would do well to consider using reason or common sense, and focus their attention on sectors of business that need an actual fix. Mr. Obama, use our industry as an example of where you need to restart your race for 2012. Take back “gainful employment” and the forcefulness you’ve asserted on similar issues before it costs more hope to be lost.

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