How Gainful Employment Looks From Here

Career College Central Summary:

  • Policy is meant to address problems as they’re understood. When the problems aren’t fully understood, the policy intervention can misfire pretty badly. 
  • The higher ed policy world is lit up with commentary on the proposed new rules for “gainful employment” regulations. The details are complicated, but in essence, the idea is to crack down on programs that are designed for the benefit of the institution that offers them, rather than for the benefit of the students. If high numbers of graduates prove to be so loaded with debt, and so poorly paid, that they can’t pay back their loans, then the providers of those programs will have to either improve the outcomes or lose eligibility for Federal financial aid.
  • “Gainful employment” regulations apply to “terminal” programs that are supposed to lead to jobs. They don’t apply to, say, liberal arts transfer programs at community colleges, since those programs were never intended to be either terminal or vocational.  They were designed to be the first two years of a four year degree, so judging outcomes by wages a year out wouldn’t make sense. A year out should mean the junior year of college.  Most currently-enrolled undergraduates don’t make very much.  Of course, they also have student loan deferments, so between low wages and deferments, applying wage-loan metrics wouldn’t shed much light.
  • The details of the new proposal are many — seriously — and complicated, and I won’t pretend to have mastered all of them. They’re also subject to legal challenge and shifting political winds. My community college colleagues have already pointed out, correctly, that loan default rates can be a misleading measure when only a very small portion of the student body takes out loans at all. I’ll add concern about the difficulty of assuming a clean division between “academic” and “vocational” programs.
  • Teacher Education is a good illustration. It’s a classically vocational program, in the sense that it’s entirely oriented around preparing for a specific job.  But you don’t get a teaching job, at least in most states, with only an Associate’s degree. A full-time K-12 teaching job requires a Bachelor’s at a minimum, and they frequently require going beyond that as a condition of keeping the job.  So the program is “vocational,” in the sense that’s it’s oriented around a particular job, but it’s also “transfer.” And the eventual outcomes have at least as much to do with the four-year college as with the community college, making “accountability” that much more complicated.

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