There were no fireworks Thursday as the U.S. Department of Education hosted the first of two days of public hearings on its much-debated proposed regulatory metrics aimed at defining "gainful employment" for most for-profit-college offerings and certificate programs at nonprofit institutions. The department received more than 90,000 written comments on the proposal this summer and postponed the release of the regulations, which were originally planned for Nov. 1, to allow for more feedback, in the public hearings and in small meetings with stakeholders.
The hearings are a rare move for a federal agency in the midst of finalizing regulations but seemed like little more than public policy theater as a string of speakers took the stage for five minutes each in an auditorium at the department’s headquarters. In all, 31 pre-approved speakers — most representing the for-profit sector — of about 50 who’d been scheduled (some had canceled in advance, others were "no shows," a department spokesman said) shared their views — extracted largely from their written comments — on the regulations.
Some commenters asked the department to withdraw the rules, but the vast majority acknowledged that the department appears determined to move ahead with the regulations and is more interested in receiving specific, constructive comments than hearing broad denunciations of the proposals. For-profit investors (and, admittedly, reporters) hoped for some hint of the department’s current line of thinking on the rules but officials in the room, including Eduardo M. Ochoa, assistant secretary for postsecondary education, asked no questions of the speakers over the course of the hearings.
In all, close to 100 people registered to speak on Thursday or today, the second day of hearings. All the institutions, groups and individuals that requested a spot on the agenda were given one, the department said.