Passing The Baton

Career College Central summary:

  • For-profit colleges won’t need to worry about one of their most persistent and powerful critics after next year, when Sen. Tom Harkin retires. But as the Iowa Democrat said last week, there are other Democrats in the Senate who will continue his pursuit of the sector. Harkin spoke at a media event held by the Young Invincibles, a student advocacy group, held in the U.S. Capitol building. He was joined by several former students who said they racked up big debts trying to earn “worthless” degrees from for-profits.
  • Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, also spoke at the event. Harkin introduced Durbin as the senator who has pushed the hardest on the for-profit issue. Fittingly, Durbin didn’t pull his punches. “This sector of higher education is disgraceful and scandalous,” he said.
  • Yet Congress has failed to act to rein in for-profits, Durbin said, because the industry has “friends in high places,” including Republicans who control the U.S. House of Representatives and can block legislation in the Senate. As a result, Senate Democrats have been relegated to watching from the sidelines as the Obama administration takes the lead with its proposed “gainful employment” regulations.
  • Those rules would apply to vocational programs at for-profits and to non-degree, vocational programs at community colleges and at nonprofit, four-year institutions. They would require an average, annual debt-to-earnings ratio for graduates of less than 12 percent, or less than 30 percent for discretionary income. And programs would need to have loan-default rates of less than 30 percent.
  • The department estimates that 16 percent of covered programs would fail the metrics. Durbin said 94 percent of failing programs would be at for-profits. The White House is collecting comments on the regulations for two more weeks. The department will then tweak the rules and issue a final version later this year.

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