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The official blog of @SCHEVResearch at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Discussions about our work, national higher education data policy, and highlights about the data we publish.

 

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Gainful Employment for All?

by Tod Massa 3. August 2018 22:40

You may have seen this story in the Wall Street Journal, "Will Majoring in Psychology Make You Better Off? The Government Wants to Know." If not, it uses some of our wage and debt data to illustrate what debt-to-income ratios for five majors would look like under a proposal to require Gainful Employment reporting all programs at all Title IV institutions. 

The new rules, set to be unveiled by the Education Department in coming weeks, will build out an Obama-era initiative called the College Scorecard, but will supplant an Obama-era plan known as the “gainful employment” rule. That provision focused government oversight on for-profit colleges, sanctioning programs that produced students with high debt loads and little income after graduating.

Instead, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pushing disclosure requirements that apply to all of higher education—including for-profit and non-profit schools, public and private schools, and undergraduate and graduate programs.

The requirements are designed to offer an unprecedented look at the debt and earnings of students after they graduate. Many colleges already post campuswide debt and income averages for graduates. The new rules will drill deeper, providing debt and earnings by major, from English to engineering.

I hope no one is really surprised about this. The director of the Institute of Education Sciences, Mark Schneider, has been pushing this kind of data almost as long as I have. Mark (who is a friend of mine) is also the creator of the College Measures site, publishing wage outcomes for multiple states (including Virginia). 

 

The New York Times reported on the plan to eliminate the existing Gainful Employment regulations here.

In the draft rule, the department proposes to hold institutions accountable by publishing information on a new federal database, or an existing government website called the College Scorecard. The sites would list student debt burdens, federal loan repayment rates, degree completion rates and the average post-college earnings of alumni, which the College Scorecard already does.

The existing database, created under the Obama administration, includes such data for more than 7,000 institutions, but it does not include program-by-program success rates for such certificates as nursing assistance, cosmetology or auto maintenance, nor does it contain the detailed employment statistics that the gainful employment regulations targeted.

The Education Department wrote in the draft rule that it planned to update the scorecard with information about specific programs for all colleges and universities that are eligible for federal financial aid, “thus improving transparency and providing information to students to inform their enrollment decisions through a market-based accountability system.”

So here's the rub. If the final regulation looks like this, in the absence of a national student record system, these data will suffer from the same limitations as the wage data currently reported in College Scorecard. This includes being limited to only students with Title IV aid that appear in the National Student Loan Data System, which does include Pell grants awards, and some rather imprecise definitions about entry status. To provide some context, the difference in undergraduate Title IV participation ranges between about 35% and 95% at Virginia public four-years. At least the wage data will be nationwide in terms of employment coverage and the debt information can include repayment rates.

Finally, as the article states, it "'took nearly a decade of rule making, litigation and public debate to write a gainful employment rule that protects hundreds of thousands of students from unaffordable debt', said James Kvaal” and it won't surprise me if it takes that along again. There are sure to be multiple challenges, even if there are no penalties associated with low performing programs (those with high debt-to-income ratios).

We'll be watching for the proposed regs to be published. I'm sure they will covered by the Chronicle and InsideHigherEd.

 




  

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