90/10 – The Need for a Reasonable Approach to Educational Quality Assurance

This past week saw the reemergence of Congressional hearings that focused attention on the for-profit sector of higher education.  The issue this time was what has been labeled the 90/10 rule.  The rule requires that a minimum of 10% of a for-profit’s revenue must come from non-federal sources in order for the college or university to be eligible to receive federal student aid. However revenue from the military is not counted as a federal source at this time.

The issues are these:

  • Soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen deserve the opportunity to obtain additional higher education while serving their country and working under schedules that are demanding, inflexible, and frequently unpredictable.
  • These same military personnel deserve high quality education that provides learning opportunities that aid them in advancing in their military careers and in better preparing themselves for the civilian labor market upon retiring or leaving the military.
  • For-profit higher education has generally been more willing than traditional higher education to develop learning opportunities that are characterized by their flexibility and customer-like responsiveness to military personnel’s needs.

Access to higher education matters, and the for-profit sector of higher education has made access a reasonable possibility for military personnel.  Legislative or regulatory action that restricts the for-profit sector may, indeed, protect some from a few who misrepresent the value of an educational program or who fail to deliver the kind of high quality learning experience that our military men and women merit.

However, more restrictive legislation or regulation has the potential to limit advancement that could have been encouraged by higher education.  More restrictive legislation or regulation has the potential to limit the capacity of our military men and women to prepare themselves for the civilian labor force. And more restrictive legislation or regulation also has the potential to increase civilian labor force joblessness for a sector of our population that deserves much better for its patriotic service to our country.

This is not an issue that can be resolved with Congressional hearings and a repeat of flawed processes like those we witnessed during the lead-up to the Gainful Employment rule.  It is an issue that demands cooly examining the means to increase access to higher education while assuring that its programs lead to high quality learning experiences that our military personnel deserve. And targeting the for-profit sector as some kind of evil player will not lead to the desired result.

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