Higher education has been a focal point of the Obama Administration since its earliest days. The President, in his frequently quoted 2009 Joint Session of Congress address, spoke fervently of his desire to ensure that every American completes at least one year of postsecondary education and to position the U.S. as a world leader with respect to our percentage of degree-holders.
Ever since, the oft-promulgated ideal of “college for all” has ignited fierce debate among policy makers, educators and advocacy groups alike concerning the issues of higher education access, affordability and attainment for American families across all demographics and income levels.
One might contend that this is a commendable goal – but its execution is ostensibly flawed, as evidenced by the introduction of the Gainful Employment rule and its arbitrary metrics. It’s caused many to pose the question: why would the Department choose to implement hugely punitive measures on the proprietary sector which, as we’ve pointed out before, often provide more favorable outcomes for nontraditional students than their community college counterparts? It seems counterintuitive, considering the Administration’s goals of enhancing access for underrepresented student demographics.
We recently read a much-welcomed commentary on the matter from Montana House Representative Joanne Blyton, who in a recent local outlet op-ed noted the shortcomings of the Department of Education’s dubious attempt to regulate a sector that comprises just 13% of the higher education landscape. As Ms. Blyton astutely points out, not only is the Gainful Employment rule unfair in that most public and nonprofit institutions would be unable to pass its metrics if required to, but it fails to recognize that proprietary colleges offer a meaningful alternative to students who simply cannot attend a “traditional” college, for various reasons.
Ms. Blyton certainly has a point. For some students, the luxury of a leisurely four-year, campus experience is entirely unrealistic because they have to work full-time and support their families. Accordingly, proprietary colleges offer evening classes and highly flexible schedules to accommodate these individuals to a degree unmatched by public and community colleges.
Additionally, many are first-generation, low-income students who have not had access to the familial support, expensive SAT tutor programs and resources enjoyed by their wealthier counterparts. Proprietary institutions, highly cognizant of this fact, often offer enhanced and highly individualized mentoring to help them cope with the sometimes-overwhelming transition into higher education. If you spend some time on the campus of an APC member college, it will become readily apparent that students are not just a faceless “number”; there is a level of personal attention that is simply unrivaled.
It’s worth noting that proprietary colleges are not subject to the formidable bureaucracy inherent to many traditional institutions, and subsequently can nimbly adapt to a fast-evolving job market and provide commensurate training in areas that lead to employment in vital areas such as law enforcement, teaching, nursing and IT. These roles might not be the most lucrative, or attractive, to the Ivy League Wall Street crowd, but few can argue that they aren’t rewarding or very much needed in our society.
Kudos to Ms. Blyton for standing up for students and challenging this well-intended but very much off-target GE rule.