Blog: DOE’s Statement on Gainful Employment Should Be Disappointing to More Efficient Career Colleges

After the barrage of negative news articles in The New York Times, the damning exposes on PBS, and the troubling student anecdotes published in the light and airy pages of Good Housekeeping, the seemingly unavoidable and mounting animosity that threatened to steamroll the career college sector amounted to this? A no decision?

Actually, a "delayed decision" is probably more accurate. The US Department of Education (DOE) is eventually going to choose its direction on the controversial gainful employment rule that has darkened career education for the last six months, but for now, the official announcement made yesterday was a let down.

The proposed gainful rule would eliminate programs where student’s eventual pay in the field in which they graduated was to be measured against the debt they incurred for obtaining their education. Originally packaged with 13 other rules that would be discussed for enforcement by the DOE, we were told yesterday that gainful employment was on separate track. In other words, the DOE realizes this gainful employment thing is a little more complex than they thought – and career colleges put up a stronger and more logical argument than they thought possible – so they need some more time to figure it out.

Some industry analysts were predicting that if gainful employment went through as proposed, it could change the face of career education as we know, shrinking the industry by a third. So, why doesn’t a no-decision feel like a victory?

Because gainful employment hasn’t been derailed – it’s merely been deflected. That may be a lot better place to be as industry than many experts had imagined. But ultimately it will likely be viewed as a disappointment from the career education perspective for this reason: the career college sector is unlike the four-year realm in many ways, but perhaps the most substantial difference is in efficiency. We, as a sector, are not used to sitting around with plans on hold. When we have a program we want to implement in our colleges and begin teaching to students, we can have the curriculum developed, approved and implemented in a matter of days compared to the year (or years) it takes for a traditional college or university to pass a similar idea through the hierarchy.

A no-decision on gainful employment adds to an already uncomfortable wait for a rule that can only damage President Obama’s goal of educating more people.

By press release standards, the DOE did manage a real achievement: it actually said something. Proving to be an exception to almost any official word released by a complex branch of our government, there was little reading between the lines needed to understand the messaging. Of course, the DOE couldn’t be so plain as to state their main point in layman’s terms: “Hey, we’re confused.”

The obvious question that might come to mind for career college officials is this: Should we trust the DOE? Are they being honest with us here, or is something more at work?

I think they are shooting us straight, for now. This doesn’t feel right because we are still moving according to the DOE’s pace, and that’s how a certain segment of high education ended up in the situation it’s in now. Traditional colleges are opposed to change. Their process is outdated, and they’re thinking isn’t innovative. But still, we’re left to wait on a decision. In the meantime, we’ll have to go on educating students and placing them into real jobs. Hopefully the DOE won’t come up with a rule against that.

By Kevin Kuzma

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