One of the GE rule’s greatest flaws is that it is not grounded in important practical realities. A case in point: GE’s inclusion of metrics that attempt to gauge a program’s success by measuring its graduates’ student loan debt compared to their income levels as early as 18months after graduation – when most careers are still in their infancy and entry-level earnings are nowhere near one’s full income potential over the course of a professional life.  (Read more from APC on this issue here, here and here.)

Imagine if all colleges and universities were beholden to this standard (or to GE in general) — every medical and law school in the country would fail. Yet, few would argue whether a school like Johns Hopkins School of Medicine or Harvard Law School are providing “quality education and training to their students” to enable them “to pay back their student loan debts” (which is the GE rule’s whole intent, as articulated by the Department of Education in the final version of the regulation published on October 31 of last year). By the Department’s terms, however, those schools would get a failing grade.

APC has argued against this unrealistic timeframe for measuring graduates’ debt-to-earnings ratio. Unfortunately, despite the rather common sense reasons against this feature of the regulation, the Department and others in favor of GE consistently turned a deaf ear.

And so, it was with great interest that we read a story in The New York Times last weekend about efforts to mitigate the country’s student loan crisis and, in particular, a comment from Rory O’Sullivan, deputy director of a group that strongly favors GE. Mr. O’Sullivan reportedly said to reporter Kevin Carey: “College degrees pay off in the long run, but many graduates struggle to manage their debt upon graduation…Income-based repayment plans protect students from early career struggles, layoffs and tough economic times.”

Precisely. That’s what we’ve been saying all along. It’s hypocritical to use this early career debt vs. earnings argument to endorse more economically favorable loan repayment plans for the college population in general but essentially use it as a weapon against students attending proprietary schools by incorporating it as a metric into GE.

Sadly, such doublespeak from those on the other side of the GE debate is not uncommon.

Politico published a piece earlier this week via its subscription-based education sector news service paraphrasing comments made from Deputy Under Secretary of Education Jamienne Studley about the Obama administration’s college ratings initiative that also raises eyebrows for its hypocrisy:

“…Studley said one of the most important issues higher education officials are concerned about is whether the (college ratings) system will weigh ‘sensitive data’, like wages, too heavily — a point she discussed last week with the Association of American Colleges and Universities and will touch on again next week with the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. Studley said she doesn’t want to overstate sheer dollars or meaningless comparisons that could emerge when evaluating institutions with inherently different programs, students and graduate salary outcomes…”

Given the clear center stage role that earnings – in other words, “wages” – play in assessing the quality of programs under the Department of Education’s published GE rule (regardless of the fact that the proprietary college landscape is also populated with “inherently different programs, students and graduate salary outcomes…”), it’s astounding to read a senior member of that same organization now argue that wages shouldn’t play that same significant role when the administration seeks to judge the educational value offered by colleges it has granted amnesty under GE.

You can’t have it both ways, Washington.

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