90/10 Rule: ‘A Story of Consequences’

By Peter Smith

I read with interest the Chronicle of Higher Education article on how different institutions in the proprietary sector are responding to satisfy the 90/10 rule’s pernicious effect on tuition ("Colleges Scramble to Avoid Violating Federal-Aid Limit," The Chronicle, April 2). There were many true facts in the article.

The problem is that they were sculpted to create an impression of wrongdoing when, in fact, they tell a story of consequences. How is this so?

  • Colleges do not control the amount of debt that students take on or write the loans. So, students can "max" their loans beyond their actual educational expenses. And the institution—proprietary or not—cannot control the loan amount. Nor can we dictate repayment, or withhold degrees for nonpayment. We only get blamed for the defaults.
  • Could tuition be lower without 90/10? Yes. But just as nonprofit colleges and universities raise tuition to close the gap when appropriations do not meet their revenue needs, proprietary colleges, if they are going to serve adult learners with multiple risk factors, must seek other sources of income to satisfy 90/10. Continuing and professional education are legitimate parts of the traditional university scene; why not in the proprietary sector?

American higher education boasts a wide variety of choices. That is one of the great strengths of our system. As a former community-college and state-university president, I recognize the value of a low tuition based on subsidies for students. But with colleges all over America capping enrollment and raising tuition, who will serve the re-marginalized learners, the very people with whom President Obama says we have to succeed to meet his goals?

Peter Smith
Senior Vice President
Academic Strategies & Development
Kaplan Higher Education
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.


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