Real Clear Policy: The Education Department Attacks Career Colleges

January 28, 2014

By Steve Gunderson

Over the next six years, there will be 55 million new job openings in the U.S. Nearly 32 million of these new hires will replace retiring Baby Boomers, while another 23 million will take new jobs. And by 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education.

To help students gain the skills that employers demand, America needs a robust postsecondary-education system, one that gives students the option of pursuing job training instead of a traditional liberal education. Yet President Obama, his White House, and the U.S. Department of Education seem focused on a campaign against career colleges -- private-sector colleges and universities, as well as certificate programs at nonprofit and public colleges.

This is the motivation behind the department's proposed "gainful employment" regulation. In essence, it would strip federal funding from career-college programs if they don't pass two metrics. The first would require graduates' debt to be less than 8 percent of their total income or 20 percent of their discretionary income three years after graduation. The second metric requires that a program's "cohort default rate" be below 30 percent.

Schools serving students who are underserved and overlooked by traditional higher education are very likely to fail these metrics. By the department's own estimation (based on a single year of data), 20 percent of programs won't measure up. Many programs across other sectors of higher education would fail the metrics, too -- a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Michigan, a law degree from George Washington University Law School, a bachelor's degree in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University -- if the metrics were applied to them.

Thanks to what can only be described as academic redlining by the department, by the end of the decade, millions of students -- working adults, minorities, service members returning from active duty, and people who were laid off from work -- would be denied access to the postsecondary education of their choice. About 80 percent of students attending career colleges use federal financial aid, and they turn to education to better their lives and their future -- not just their income the first three years out of school. In fact, many students, whether coming out of career colleges or public universities, exchange life experiences for income. Take the students leaving work temporarily to raise a family, join the Peace Corps, or enroll in Teach for America. Surely, these students are not pursuing these endeavors to earn the most money they can.

Similarly, a student entering the health-care field might take an opportunity in a small town that could pay less than a similar job in a big city. Three years later, that student could still be there by his own choice. But that student's earnings potential is still substantially higher than it would have been without the degree: He will always have the option of pursuing higher salaries in other areas of the country.

With the gainful-employment regulation, the Obama Administration seeks to impose a one-size-fits-all solution to a complex issue: postsecondary education. There are legitimate conversations to be had, and legitimate solutions that would help make college more affordable and students more successful. But these conversations must include all sectors of higher education and acknowledge the variety of students' lifestyles and pursuits.

Steve Gunderson is president and CEO of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.

Navy Times: Proposed MOU would require TA schools to be eligible for civilian financial aid program

January 16, 2014

Inside Higher Education: The White House Summit

January 15, 2014
WASHINGTON -- President Obama will convene a meeting with more than 100 college and university presidents Thursday -- a chance for his administration to pivot away from its stalled legislative agenda to executive actions and also a rare opportunity for White House-level attention for a large group of academic leaders.

“I’ve got a phone that allows me to convene Americans from every walk of life -- nonprofits, businesses, the private sector, universities -- to try to bring more and more Americans together around what I think is a unifying theme: making sure that this is a country where if you work hard, you can make it,” Obama said in remarks at the White House on Tuesday.

Not only is such a large gathering of college leaders by the U.S. president unusual, but it also comes as the administration’s push on accountability in higher education has rankled many of very same leaders with whom Obama will share space with at the summit on Thursday. Private college presidents have been among the most vocal critics of the administration’s proposed, but still largely undefined, college ratings system.

Administration officials have said in planning meetings with college presidents that Thursday’s event, however, is unrelated to the work the Education Department is doing to develop metrics for its ratings system.

The summit Thursday will focus instead on improving college access for low-income students -- a cause that aligns with the focus of the First Lady Michelle Obama’s new outreach to underprivileged students to encourage them to apply for and attend college. Both President Obama and the First Lady will address college leaders in the daylong summit, according to an email sent to invitees.
One of the topics that administration officials have focused on in planning meetings with college presidents -- and have discussed publicly -- is the issue of undermatching: a phenomenon education researchers have said occurs when high-achieving low-income students fail to apply to or enroll in the college to which they are best-suited.

The administration has specifically been interested, officials have said, in the academic scholarship on the undermatching issue completed by Caroline Hoxby, Sarah Turner and Christopher Avery. For instance, Hoxby, a Stanford University economics professor, and  Avery, a Harvard Unniversity public policy professor, have found that many highly talented low-income students never apply to top colleges. Turner, a University of Virginia economics professor, and Hoxby have also found that sending high-achieving poor students information about their college options earlier in the admissions process can help reduce the under-matching problem.

The presidents attending the summit have agreed to make voluntary pledges to do more to help low-income students enroll in and complete college. The White House is expected to highlight those initiatives Thursday, but in planning documents the administration had been eyeing “dramatic achievements” by colleges -- such as double-digit increases in remedial course pass rates.

Another suggestion the White House has floated in the past is for colleges to pledge to substantially increase the proportion of enrolled students who are eligible to receive Pell Grants, a key indicator of socioeconomic diversity.

Many college presidents involved in the event and other advocates for low-income students praised the White House for using its bully pulpit to address an issue they feel has not drawn enough attention.

“We think that it’s great that the White House is focusing on this issue,” said Emily Froimson, vice president of programs at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “There’s an assumption that high-achieving low-income students are fine on their own and don’t need extra support, and that’s just not the case.”

Froimson said that some view the undermatching problem for the highest-achieving low-income students as an elite issue because it involves the nation’s most selective institutions.
However, the involvement of elite colleges and universities in the problem can also benefit the conversation about college access, she said.

“Because elite institutions are involved, the issue attracts more attention,” she said. “They’re leaders in higher ed. They have the brand name.”

Still, she said, “the problem cannot be solved by a handful of elite institutions.”

Political Stunt?
While most college presidents interviewed praised the administration’s efforts and said they appreciated the White House-level attention on their institutions’ missions, not all college leaders said they were on board.

Some college presidents, none of whom agreed to speak on the record, declined the administration’s invitation to attend the summit, arguing that they were already pursuing many efforts to boost low-income enrollment and couldn't make additional commitments.

One liberal arts college said his institution is “already doing a lot in terms of low-income access” and criticized the event as “superficial” and "window-dressing.”

He said his institution was “probably at the limit of what it could offer” in terms of aid to low-income students.

“This is something we all agree on, but without addressing the cost, this can’t be serious,” he said, adding that he did not want to gather with other college presidents to “sing kumbaya" without addressing the cost implications of filling more of his student body with low-income students since the associated “cost implications are substantial.”

Catherine Hill, the president of Vassar College and a scholar of the economics of higher education, had a different perspective, praising the summit -- which she will be attending Thursday -- as important. 

Hill said that focusing only on expanding the applicant pool of qualified low-income students at selective colleges like Vassar would not be productive in solving college access issues.
“You’re always making these tradeoffs between finding revenue and providing access,” she said. “It’s not just a question of getting talented kids into the applicant pools of these schools, because many of these schools still are not need blind or meeting full need.”

But she said the White House attention to the issue is a good thing.

“The administration can encourage us to do things,” she said. “Our sector has the resources and ability to have a serious conversation about this.”

Expected at the daylong event at the Executive Office Building on the White House campus Thursday are the leaders of a range of institutions, including small liberal arts colleges to major research universities. For-profit college leaders appear to have been excluded from the event. The trade group representing the sector, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, issued a statement Tuesday saying it was "unfortunate" that the Obama administration had not extended an invitation to its members.   

The following is a partial list of the institutions and organizations whose leaders have said in interviews or public statements that they will be attending: Achieving the Dream; American Association of Community Colleges; American Council on Education; California Community College System; California State University; Chegg; Claremont McKenna College; College Board; Complete College America; Drake University; Hamilton College; Harvey Mudd College; Morehouse College; National Association for College Admission Counseling; Nebraska Wesleyan University; North Carolina State University; Northeastern University; Northwestern University; Pitzer College; Pomona College; Scripps College; Smith College; State University System of New York, Stony Brook; SUNY System; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of Virginia; University System of Maryland; Vassar College.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Gainful Employment Rule Will Limit Opportunities for Students

January 9, 2014

APSCU Press Release: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Cites Gainful Employment Regulation as Example of Overregulation

Washington, D.C., January 8, 2013—Following U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue's annual State of American Business address, APSCU President and CEO Steve Gunderson released the following statement:

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce today voiced its strong opposition to the Department of Education’s gainful employment regulation, which it said discriminates against private sector colleges and universities that play a major role in filling the nation’s skills gap. The rule would reduce access to higher education and training at a time when businesses are looking for skilled workers.

We applaud the Chamber for its commitment to defending the rights of students to prepare for the workforce. In the face of mounting concern and opposition to the regulation, it is unfortunate the Department continues to promote the regulation, while failing to fully analyze the impact on student access and opportunity.”