The Department of Education states in its mission that it promotes “student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”
Access to education is a key ingredient to our quality of life and our prosperity. In our country all Americans of every age, background and ethnicity should have equality of access to the educational programs, schools and degrees they want and need to get ahead in life.
The approach of the Department of Education to equality of access seems somewhat strange; it has proposed a rule that will severely limit student access to educational opportunities found in private sector schools and career colleges. The Department of Education is proposing a “Gainful Employment” rule. One version of the proposal restricts Title IV financial aid if a student’s starting salary does not meet a debt -to-earnings ratio test of 8%.
None of us wants to see college graduates with excessive debt, but loans are a means for students of lower income and working families to gain access to economic opportunity. During a time when the economy is in recession and more than seven million people have lost their jobs, why would the federal government limit students’ educational opportunity and access to the skills needed for their jobs? Proprietary schools have a record of providing flexible, service-oriented opportunities for the many adults going back to school. They also have a record of meeting the needs of a disproportionately high enrollment of minority students who want to gain a competitive advantage by means of a specific degree. Without access to these schools, many adults will be denied an education essential for many jobs, and our economy will be denied the skilled labor it needs for recovery.
“Gainful Employment” should be an issue that receives wider public attention. While all of us want to minimize student debt, restricting access to education during a severe recession has the potential to limit opportunity for the jobless and under-employed and hamper our economy’s recovery.