Now that for-profit higher education firms, along with the minority and low-income advocates who represent most of the sector’s students, have negotiated a truce with the Education Department over "gainful employment" rules meant to ensure that graduates end up in jobs that pay enough to service their student loan debt, it’s time to focus on the broader issue that all sides (and the media) have ignored:
Soaring student loans unintentionally subsidize practices by both for-profit and not-for-profit colleges that drive the cost of college up.
Changing this equation in ways that lower the cost of college for everyone could be the surprising contribution the for-profit sector makes to the country, if for-profit firms are farsighted enough to seize the opportunity.
Before explaining why, a few disclosures are in order: The Washington Post Co. owns Kaplan, a for-profit educator; my wife is on the board of a company that operates another for-profit university; and I was once approached in my consulting life about offering paid advice to yet another, though I have not done so. Also, I serve on an Education Department commission looking at questions of how the nation funds K-12 schools. Ordinarily these affiliations might counsel leaving this subject to others, but there have been perspectives missing from the “gainful employment” battle that could now usefully move to the center of public discussion.
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