Judge Strikes Down ‘Gainful’

A day before the federal government's controversial new rules governing vocational programs were set to take effect, a federal judge on Saturday invalidated one of its key elements, blocking enforcement of much of the regulatory framework.

The ruling by Judge Rudolph Contreras, which came just days after the Education Department released its first set of data produced by the new regulations, largely upheld the Education Department's legal right to craft new regulations aimed at ensuring that vocational programs prepare students for "gainful employment," saying that the agency had "set out to address a serious policy problem, regulating pursuant to a reasonable interpretation of its statutory authority."

The judge's decision also supports many aspects of the department's decision making process, rejecting assertions in a 2011 lawsuit by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities that the agency had overstepped its bounds in regulating in this area and chosen arbitrary measures to hold for-profit and other vocational programs accountable. The association is the primary trade group for for-profit colleges, which were the primary targets (and victims, as they perceived it) of the new rules.

Contreras concluded, too, that the Obama administration had identified sound reasons for choosing two of the three standards the new rule would apply to vocational programs, which link the size of former students' debt payments to their discretionary and total income levels, respectively.

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