Charges of misleading information and falsified data in the advertisements of several for-profit colleges have become a major component of pro-gainful employment rhetoric in Washington. Indeed, a quick glance at some of the recent headlines, such as this one in the Wall Street Journal and this one in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, speaks to just this.
Regardless of your view on marketing practices employed by some for-profit colleges, it is evident that the Department of Education’s Gainful Employment (GE) regulation does not boast a great degree of transparency either – particularly when it comes to data.
Despite requests to do so, the Department has failed to release supporting data and information on the calculation of the 2012 GE Informational Rates. In fact, there is no data for 85 percent of GE programs and no data for 97 percent of certificate programs at community colleges. Omitting such information has two effects: it prevents colleges from evaluating how the proposed rule would apply to their programs; and it prevents anyone from measuring the impact of the proposed rule on students, institutions and the higher education community as a whole, thereby impeding well-informed public debate of the issues. How can institutions comply with the standards, make appropriate changes, or provide well-informed comments if the Department does not fully explain its methodologies or provide comprehensive data?
The stated goal of the Department’s GE rule is to ensure that colleges offer quality, cost-effective educational programs to students. As we have previously said, we are in complete agreement on the importance of developing regulations for schools with questionable outcomes. But, just as it is the responsibility of colleges to provide students with accurate and meaningful data – particularly graduation and job placement rates – it is equally important that the Department of Education provide colleges with data that allows them to evaluate how they will be judged and to see how this rule will apply across the board. To do otherwise is illogical and leaves the Department’s stated intention and methodology subject to serious question.