Now What?

WASHINGTON — A federal court has again ruled against the U.S. Department of Education on its “gainful employment” regulations, with a decision that is likely to complicate a possible appeal. It could also fuel broader debates about government data collection in higher education.

Gainful employment, which was created in 2011, seeks to measure the performance of vocational programs, mostly at for-profit institutions but also at some nonprofit colleges. But the regulations were put on hold last June when Rudolph Contreras, a judge with the U.S. District Court here, struck them down in response to a legal challenge from the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the primary for-profit trade group.

Contreras wrote then that the department had failed to adequately justify the requirement that at least 35 percent of a program’s graduates are actively repaying their loans. That standard is just one of three thresholds under the regulations. The other two are based on debt-to-income ratios. But the finding that the loan repayment rate was set arbitrarily scuttled all of gainful employment’s enforcement and reporting requirements.

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