New Federal Rule Erodes Access to Education

By Robert Herzog

With another graduation season having recently reached its conclusion and a new generation of young adults starting to look for work, it is easy to forget about the thousands of older Hoosier workers who are under pressure to improve their skills and protect their place in today’s difficult employment market.

Many of these adults take advantage of online classes provided by private sector colleges and universities throughout Indiana. These private sector colleges do not just provide specialty training and the skills necessary to further careers; they offer the flexibility necessary for today’s working adults. Whether it be night classes or online programs, private sector colleges and universities play a vital role in accommodating adult learners so they can follow their dreams and provide a better life for themselves and their families.

But there is one problem that has arisen repeatedly in the past two years and it has hit private sector colleges particularly hard: Washington’s obsession with over-regulation.

Just weeks ago, the Obama administration published new rules that will limit the ability of many adult learners to access financial aid for certain programs at the state’s private sector college and universities. The new regulation, known as the "gainful employment" rule, all but ensures the destruction of some private sector college programs and the vocational programs they offer by forcing institutions to abide by arbitrary debt-to- future-income ratio requirements for graduates. Mysteriously, this same regulation was not implemented to affect students at other institutions of higher education, leaving some to wonder the administration’s true intent.

But the new regulation — just one of many that are causing increasing frustration among business leaders and Main Street constituents alike — will disproportionately hurt women, minorities and working adults who need financial aid to continue on their path toward a degree.

In 2009, private sector colleges and universities accounted for 9 percent (almost 48,000) of the more than 558,000 higher education students enrolled in Indiana. In comparison to all institutions in the state, private-sector schools educated a higher proportion of women and minorities.

Two-thirds of the students at these institutions were women, while the proportion of total minorities and African American students specifically attending these colleges was more than double that of those attending all institutions.

Unfortunately, Indiana will bear a disproportionate burden from the new "gainful employment" regulation: nearly 50 percent of the state’s post-secondary institutions are private sector colleges or universities. And those who stand to lose out most are the adult learners who rely on these programs to expand their careers or find new work in sectors for which they feel most passionately.

While the Obama administration continues to add new regulations that disproportionately affect low-income Hoosiers, policymakers on the state and federal level need to continue the fight to make sure all Americans have access and choice when it comes to higher education.

Herzog is chief financial officer of Harrison College in Indiana, and a member of Student Access, Student Choice, a coalition of career colleges.

INDY STAR

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