The following op-ed was written by Willie E. Gary of Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson & Sperando, P.L.
The US Department of Education recently proposed a series of rules aimed at tightening regulatory oversight of career colleges. But the new standards, if enacted, are a classic example of the federal government doing more harm than good. In this case, many African American youths and working adults will be the victims.
Under the proposed rules, students at career colleges would be ineligible for federal loans and grants if their chosen career school doesn’t meet certain guidelines pertaining to the institution’s default rate on student loans and the salary level of its graduates. The reasoning behind these rules is ridiculous: How can the value and worthiness of an educational establishment be gauged by how many students default on their loans?
On the surface, these rules may even appear to be a beneficial effort by the government to hold career schools more accountable after reviews have uncovered unsound recruiting practices at some of the schools. But in reality, the rules are unfair to the institutions and will punish youths and working adults who are striving to get the additional education and training they need for promotions or better jobs. The students at the career colleges across the country are disproportionately people of color, women and from low-income families. In fact, nearly half the students (43 percent) are minorities, as are 39 percent of career college graduates. In addition, career colleges are a leading source of associate degrees for minorities—23 percent of African Americans and 18 percent of Latinos with associate degrees attended career colleges.
What makes these new regulations so blatantly unfair is that the default rate on student loans at career colleges is similar to the default rate at the nation’s liberal arts colleges and universities among students with the same demographics as those at career colleges—minorities and individuals from low-income families. It is extremely disappointing that the Department of Education seeks to implement a policy that could cripple operations at many career schools without adequately considering the negative impact on students who need these institutions. The Education Department has proposed rules that will harm all the schools, and all the students who may want to attend these institutions. This is bad public policy.
Clearly, the Education Department’s approach is elitist, if not outright racist.
We have to ask why these restrictive regulations have not been proposed for the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges and universities or even at state colleges where students with the same socioeconomic backgrounds have similar default rates on their student loans.
Instead, the proposed regulations are aimed at institutions whose the graduates don’t often become CEOs, doctors and lawyers. Career schools produce nurses, auto mechanics, computer technicians and other skilled workers, whose services are often overlooked and devalued in our society. Career schools should be applauded for providing opportunities to people who may have had nowhere else to turn to better their lives. At career schools, 45 percent of the dependent students come from families in the lowest-income quartile, and nearly half of the parents of career school students have a high school diploma or less education.
Needless to say, students at career schools, the people who will be punished by this new policy, lack the clout of students at the liberal arts schools. Their voices are rarely heard; many have spent their lives as victims of structural racism that has impacted their education, healthcare, housing, environment and employment status.
Now, as they seek to enhance their quality of life, the government is diminishing their opportunities to succeed. Consider that 48 percent of career college students are employed full- time while enrolled, yet graduation rates at career schools are similar or better than those at public and private colleges and universities.
Most career school students are looking for a second chance, an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty that has engulfed them and their communities. The government should not trample on their hopes and dreams for a better life.
(Willie E. Gary is one of America’s preeminent trial lawyers, having won more than 150 multi-million dollar lawsuits. His firm, Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson & Sperando, P.L., is based in Stuart, Florida.)