Keep the doors open to career education opportunities for Floridians.

Apryl Shackelford has been on both sides of the education access divide.

A former high school dropout, Shackelford went back to school and found her calling in teaching.

She was a kindergarten teacher, a middle-school reading teacher, a specialist in her school district’s Parents Academy and now the dean of students at a leadership school in the Jacksonville area.

This year, Shackelford was selected as a finalist for Florida Teacher of the Year following her 2013 award of Duval County Teacher of the Year.

A working mother of two, her return to education began at a career college and continues as she pursues her doctoral degree.

Yet students like Shackelford will be denied access to postsecondary education if a proposed U.S. Department of Education rule becomes law.

Seeking to shield students from excessive student loan debt, the federal government wants to hold institutions offering career-focused programs accountable for the future earnings and debt levels of their graduates.

While the 800-page gainful employment rule is complex, the end result is simple: Programs judged against an arbitrary standard could lose federal student loan eligibility.

Terminating eligibility, therefore, means closing programs, denying postsecondary access and harming students.

The move also will harm the Jacksonville area business community by shrinking the pool of talented job applicants.

If the U.S. Department of Education’s purpose is indeed to help students avoid excessive debt, there are far better and more direct ways to accomplish this goal.

Substantive actions include:

■ Reducing lending rates (lawmakers have called the federal government’s multi-billion dollar windfall lending profits obscene).
■ Expanding the use of income-based repayment programs.
■ Increasing the public service job categories for which loan forgiveness applies.
■ Restricting the use of student aid funds to educational costs.
■ Improving the budget counseling provided to borrowers.

Shackelford is a role model for every student but especially for those willing to invest in themselves and their second chances in life.

She also should be an example to federal regulators that there is no one path to career success.

Curtis Austin is executive director of Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges in Tallahassee.  

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