Duking It Out on ‘Gainful Employment’

WASHINGTON — After more than a year of wrangling, the last chance for colleges, associations and individuals to weigh in on the U.S. Department of Education’s "gainful employment" rules came to a close last week with the end of the public comment period on the department’s proposed regulations.

Since late July, when the Education Department shared its rationale and draft regulatory language in a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in the Federal Register, about 80,000 comments have flowed in from supporters and opponents of the regulations. The department has proposed to determine whether most for-profit offerings and some nondegree programs at nonprofit colleges were eligible to participate in the Title IV federal financial aid program using measures of the ability of former students to repay their student loans.

The department has insisted that it will publish final regulatory language by Nov. 1 so that the language can begin taking effect on July 1, 2011 — leaving the department seven weeks to read all the submissions and factor them into its decision. Department officials would not say whether the rush of comments –many from for-profit college students and employees and orchestrated by the colleges or, in some cases, their parent companies — would change that timeline or lead to reconsiderations of the rules. Nonetheless, it appears that the department will continue as planned, adjusting its proposal based on some of the constructive and clarifying comments it received, but not substantively transforming its reasoning or its metrics.

Inside Higher Ed has examined the comments from hundreds of individuals, as well as major associations and for-profit institutions, to get a sense of what department officials will come across as they read the thousands of submissions.

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