We’ve talked quite a bit on this blog about how the GE Rule serves to prejudice students and the public against for-profit colleges by including loopholes and exemptions that enable the poorest-performing programs at community colleges and non-profits from having to comply. If the Department’s intention is to protect students from programs that provide little to no value in terms of employment preparedness, then certainly NO higher education provider should be given amnesty from Gainful Employment’s reach.
If there is to be a national standard, APC has staunchly advocated that all institutions, regardless of their tax status, should be beholden to it so that ALL college students receive the same protection from their government. It is hard to defend doing otherwise, particularly given the negative consequences of granting sacred cow status to programs whose outcomes clearly underscore their unworthiness for it. Case in point: the GE Rule’s requirement that some institutions disclose program outcome information while shielding other institutions from this requirement.
The Department’s stance on requiring public program disclosures from proprietary colleges and the few public or non-profit institutions that didn’t get a pass from complying with Gainful Employment is detrimental to the programs and their students alike (see here). It serves to tell only half a story, leaving out important comparative information that students need to make value judgments on which program to attend and damaging the programs’ goodwill and reputation with their stakeholders simply because they didn’t meet the Department’s arbitrary and capricious metrics that don’t actually measure program value.
Here’s an analogy that truly puts the disconnect in perspective: Let’s take two imaginary hospitals located in Anywhere, USA. One is a for-profit institution and the other is a non-profit. In response to public concerns about aggressive marketing tactics and care quality at for-profit hospitals, the government decides to increase its regulatory oversight and zones in on mortality rates, which, of course, is something many consumers look at when choosing where to have a surgical procedure done. They issue a regulation setting a five percent mortality rate for cardiac surgery as the ceiling for quality at for-profit hospitals (no similar measure is implemented for non-profit hospitals). The regulation also mandates for-profit hospitals to disclose their mortality rate. If it remains above five percent for two years, that cardiac unit is closed and the rates are published. So, the for-profit hospital in Anywhere, USA complies, disclosing a six percent mortality rate. Cardiac patients in the area read the information and avoid the for-profit hospital, going across the street instead to the non-profit hospital. They are dangerously unaware that that hospital has an eleven percent mortality rate because the non-profit hospital is not subject to the regulation and accordingly, doesn’t have to disclose it.
Just as flaws in the imaginary regulation above sent those it sought to protect unknowingly to a hospital with worse outcomes, the GE Rule will do the same with its selective disclosure requirements on the education front. The requirement that impacted programs — namely, proprietary colleges — reveal debt-to-earnings rates without mandating the same from non-profit and public degree programs gives students no frame of reference and even worse, an unfounded trust that non-profit and public institutions’ programs must be, by default, better. The Department’s refusal to even release debt to earnings informational rates for these programs denies impacted colleges and students the ability to put the rates in any context.
The Department does a terrible disservice to students and the public with its selective disclosure requirement. It tells only half the story — and that satisfies no one.