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The Hunger Games: Gainful Employment

by Tod Massa 14. March 2014 22:31

As I enjoyed the feeding frenzy this week in the higher ed news media, I could not help but think of The Hunger Games, which is only one of the more recent dystopic imaginings of a future where bloodsports are major media events. Rollerball, Death Race 2000, and The Running Man are other great examples. Rollerball (the original) is my favorite of these, and I suspect it might appeal to many people are concerned about the corporatization of American education. The only other movie that comes close to this week’s bloodsport is the brilliant 2012 movie Bait featuring tsunami survivors trapped in a flooded supermarket with a great white shark. Jaws doesn’t even come close.

So, what I am talking about?

On Tuesday, the New America Foundation released an excellent report, “College Blackout: How the Higher Education Lobby Fought to Keep Students in the Dark”  authored by Clare McCann (@claremccann) and Amy Laitinen (@amylaitinen1). I also take pride in this excerpt:

  “States with even the most robust higher education unit record systems (some older than 20 years) often miss big parts of the picture, such as the outcomes of students who attend private nonprofit and for-profit colleges in their states. Many state systems can’t speak to each other, so states lose track of students who leave the state for another school or for employment. Even Virginia, which has one of the most sophisticated data systems in the country, can’t see without relying on the Clearinghouse what happens to its students who transfer to Maryland colleges, or track how many of its graduates began jobs in neighboring Washington, D.C. Those states that do look at wage outcomes usually rely on state unemployment insurance (UI) systems for wage information. UI data include quarterly income records reported to states by employers, but exclude federal and military employees and the self-employed – a challenge that is especially problematic for the Commonwealth of Virginia, which hosts more than 172,000 federal employees.41  With an increasingly mobile student body, national-level data are needed to understand where students are going and how they are doing.”

Sure, it points out the limitations of our data, but that is a good thing. We attempt to be unceasingly clear about our limits.

To top things off though, the article about this report on InsideHigherEd was linked on the Drudge Report which resulted in some splendid reader comments. The comments on the Chronicle article were much more focused, but often no less in error.

Half-crazed sharks in a supermarket indeed.

Late last night (Thursday), my Twitter feed erupted with news that the proposed rules on Gainful Employment (GE) would be released today (all 841 pages). Barmak Nassirian (@BarmakN) was tweeting his expectations as both a vocal advocate for privacy rights and student protection, and having served on the negreg committee. There was plenty of coverage today, but the absolute best was the work done by Ben Miller (@EduBenM) at the New America Foundation with one blog entry here and whole mess of tweets under #gainful. Paul Fain covered the story at InsideHigherEd and Goldie Blumenstyk wrote about the five things you need to know about GE.

Reader comments were predictable, if only because they are nearly identical to comments made during the coverage in December and previously. It is almost as if some readers are using talking points as a reference guide.

These comments can be boiled down to a simple declarative statement. “Gainful Employment rules should apply to ALL programs at ALL institutions.”

This matters because the Higher Education Act is up for reauthorization.

This matters because two major policy issues have hit in the same week.

Those who cry “GE for everyone!” are also explicitly calling for IPEDS-UR as that it is the only way it can be done.

Those calling for IPEDS-UR are inviting the possibility of GE for Everyone…as are those calling for a Postsecondary Institution Rating System (PIRS). GE is simply a three-tier PIRS at the program level (read Ben’s blog referenced above to see what I mean).

This is the future as I see it. Something of a data-based bloodsport for postsecondary education where the players strive for winning ratings, unless, of course, there is a lot of truth in the saying that “politics makes strange bedfellows.” If that last bit is true, then it should be awesomely delightful to watch certain associations work together to stop both IPEDS-UR and GE…associations that have not historically been in much agreement, politically or philosophically.

For good or ill, it will take year or five for reauthorization to be completed. A lot will happen in that time, but the possible roadmap is before you.


May the odds be ever in your favor.



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