Your Guide to ‘Gainful Employment’

The Education Department’s final "gainful employment" rule, which strives to hold most programs at for-profit colleges and certificate and vocational programs at nonprofit institutions to a new federal standard on student debt and employability, was released Thursday.

Compared to the proposed rule that the agency published last July to intense criticism (from for-profit colleges) and applause (from consumer advocates), the final version was widely perceived as more favorable to the institutions, especially among those who had pushed for greater regulation and who said they were disappointed that the administration had backed away from more stringent provisions.

To stay eligible for federal financial aid, each program will have to meet one of three benchmarks: a federal student loan repayment rate of at least 35 percent, a debt-to-income ratio of less than 12 percent or a debt-to-discretionary-income ratio of less than 30 percent.

The chart below aims to help explain the complicated rule and show how it evolved — amid intense lobbying by for-profit colleges, hundreds of meetings, and much political brokering — from proposed to final.

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Inside Higher Ed 

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