Various Perspectives on Gainful Employment

On Friday, I was a panelist for a webcast on gainful employment, sponsored by Today’s Campus.  The video is available, including comments from all four panelists:  Dennis Cariello, DLA Piper; Steve Girolami, AfterCollege; Corey Greendale, First Analysis; Mark Kantrowitz, FastWeb; and Larry Penley.

I invite you to view the video, as I believe it will interest both those from the for-profit and the nonprofit sectors of the higher education industry.  Among the more interesting commentaries was the one about the least discussed, likely consequences of the Gainful Employment rule.  It may come as no surprise that panelists thought that there is a reasonably high likelihood of a similar rule being applied to traditional colleges and universities as legislators become frustrated with higher tuition, particularly in public colleges and universities.

But it may come as more of a surprise that panelists saw some interesting, but unintended, positive outcomes for proprietary colleges and universities.  Among them was one panelist’s belief that proprietary colleges and universities will be better positioned than traditional schools to compete more successfully for students (likely most of them) who seek out the higher education experience as preparation for a career.

Another unintended, positive consequence that I mentioned addresses the likely improvement to the quality of the learning experience for students in proprietary colleges and universities.  Already, proprietary colleges and universities find themselves educating students who have often failed to succeed in other higher education settings or who have arrived for college ill-prepared for higher education.  New demands placed on proprietary colleges are likely to increase their attention to improving basic skills in mathematics and reading with the adoption of innovative, adaptive learning engines, and they are more likely than traditional colleges to possess the capital to invest in these learning improvements.

That there are some positive outcomes of Gainful Employment does not change my view that this rule was a distraction for higher education, based on a flawed process and founded in unfair treatment of only proprietary schools.  The arguments of Iowa’s Distinguished Professor Kenneth Hoyt before the Senate Committee in 1965 still stand, I believe.  He testified that the 1965 Higher Education Act should include proprietary schools that are focused on “gainful employment” because of the need for fair treatment of all education avenues. His was an argument for equitable treatment that moved legislators toward inclusion of proprietary schools – not an argument for applying regulation differentially to these schools.  Professor Hoyt more than 45 years ago already understood that we need a variety of education avenues if we are to prosper as a nation.

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