By Robert Herzog
The Bush administration’s education policy No Child Left Behind and the Obama administration’s new "gainful employment" regulation on private-sector colleges and universities have little in common except one thing: They both need to be fixed or repealed.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced the Obama administration would begin issuing waivers to states requesting an exemption from a central provision of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law. For years, the law has garnered overwhelmingly negative feedback from state education officials throughout the country.
The principal complaint is that NCLB’s central provision, that 100 percent of students become proficient in math and reading by 2014, is unrealistic and an undue burden on public school systems, teachers and students. Most important, it has failed in its goal of upping the quality of education provided to all children in the United States.
But Duncan’s dour description of the law — a "slow-motion train wreck" — could very well be applied to the Education Department’s new rules on private-sector colleges and universities. The new regulations, known as "gainful employment," are similarly burdensome and unrealistic and, without a diversion, could take the same course as NCLB.
It is time for Duncan to start issuing waivers on "gainful employment" as well.
The "gainful employment" rule forces private-sector colleges to abide by arbitrary debt-to-future-income ratio requirements for graduates. If schools cannot meet these one-size-fits-all requirements, students will be denied critical financial aid and many academic programs will be forced to close. Prospective students — many of whom are working adults — will be shut out of these valuable programs.
Apprehension over the economy and America’s place in the world are exactly the reasons why we cannot force out private-sector colleges and universities, which train citizens for in-demand jobs. The career-focused programs offered through these institutions are perhaps the most efficient way of training the next generation of the American workforce.
Prospective students seek out these institutions for the in-depth and real-world training that will serve their career endeavors and marketability, not their social lives. When one looks at the job sectors that are maintaining prominence even in a sour economy, it is clear that career-focused training will fill the void. Today’s nurses, health-care technicians, information technology experts and business managers require specific skills and rigorous training. Private-sector colleges are uniquely adept at providing it.
As has been reported, Secretary Duncan and the Obama administration are taking unprecedented steps to unilaterally revise education policy in America. They clearly recognize the significance of making certain that our children receive the best possible education to compete in the global economy.
Now is the time to realize the significance of career-focused sectors of higher education in preparing America’s future workforce. The No Child Left Behind policy is on its way out for this very reason; so too should the so-called "gainful employment" rules.