The Hill. August 15, 2014. By Harry C. Alford.
Imagine if the federal government decided to regulate hospitals and medical clinics by judging them strictly by their ability to achieve specific outcomes for their patients — as opposed to measuring their quality of service — or else funding would be cut off, causing them to close their doors. Moreover, not all hospitals and clinics would be subject to these regulations — just the ones in neighborhoods with older populations, higher percentages of people living in poverty, and larger numbers of Latino and African-American residents.
The scenario above would lead to the closure of hundreds of hospitals which serve the vital role of providing health services to the underserved Americans who need them most. A proposal like this would be lambasted by Americans as outrageous and harmful. However, this is exactly what the U.S. Department of Education has proposed when it comes to college programs throughout the country with its proposed "gainful employment" regulations.
While the administration's conquest of Corinthian Colleges this summer left 72,000 students and 12,000 employees without a clear path forward, those numbers appear paltry when compared to the thousands of employees and millions of students who would be affected by the proposed gainful employment regulations. Various studies have shown that approximately 1 million students are enrolled in programs that will likely lose eligibility for Title IV federal student aid under the proposed regulations, and up to 7.5 million students could lose access by 2024.
As previously noted, the administration claimed ignorance of Corinthian's tenuous finances when it delayed access to the federal funding for students choosing to attend a Corinthian institution of higher education, but those dubious claims have since been exposed as a ploy to cover up the Department of Education's blind zeal for big government. As BuzzFeed revealed in documents provided to the outlet, the department was aware of many of the details of Corinthian's financial situation as recently as May 2014. This revelation — coupled with the department's and the administration's known hostility toward private-sector schools — confirms that the department's assertions are little more than a cover up for its hasty, poorly planned actions.
While the department may be patting itself on the back now, the repercussions of its hasty actions are being felt by the thousands of students who attend Corinthian's schools. These students now face uncertain futures as the department failed to consider a plan to absorb them, as well as the impact to Corinthian’s full-time employees, who will now be forced to seek new alternatives. The department's lack of consideration for this underserved population of the U.S. will be made even clearer if its proposed gainful employment regulations become law, as they are guaranteed to have exponentially more damaging effects.
The prospect of the impact of the gainful employment regulations is more appalling when the demographics of many private-sector institutions are taken into consideration. The majority of students who attend private-sector colleges come predominantly from challenged socioeconomic segments of our communities. Students at for-profits tend to be older than traditional students, are more likely to be minorities and slightly more likely to be female. Many students are already part of the workforce and are twice as likely to have families of their own.
Analysis from Charles River Associates suggest that between 25 and 40 percent of African-American students, between 21 and 39 percent of Hispanic students, and between 24 and 41 percent of female students are enrolled in impacted programs. These are the very individuals, in every corner of our country, who are working to break into the American middle class. They are also people for whom traditional public or non-profit colleges simply aren't an option — either due to costs, schedules, admissions requirements or simply due to choice, a freedom we enjoy in this country the last time I checked.
If the proposed regulations are put in place as currently drafted, there will be a snowball effect. First, students who are reliant on federal financial aid to afford college will be denied access. The resulting reduction in enrollment could shut down entire programs and colleges, thus negatively impacting potentially all students enrolled and studying at the institution of their choosing. Some programs, striving to meet unrealistic metrics to remain viable, will greatly restrict admission of the underserved students who need it most, and only enroll low-risk students. The schools left standing will be no more accessible to underserved students than traditional colleges and universities, public or non-profit.
It won't take long before the American public's outrage against these shortsighted regulations boils forth when millions of students are forced to abandon their dreams of higher education and are stripped of one of their most important options for life improvement.
Alford is the cofounder, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.