WASHINGTON – The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national civil and human rights organizations, along with 16 other civil rights, education, labor, and consumer organizations, have sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressing strong support for a proposed rule that would crack down on colleges – especially for-profit colleges – that fail to prepare their students for “gainful employment.” The letter highlights the disproportionate impact these practices are having on students of color, low-income students, women, armed-service members and veterans, all of whom are over-represented in these colleges’ student bodies.
“For-profit colleges have launched an all-out campaign using the American Dream as bait to trap vulnerable students into underperforming schools and saddle them with a lifetime of debt,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference. “We support the education department’s efforts to hold these schools accountable by issuing this rule and vigorously enforcing it.”
Under the rule, colleges that fail to demonstrate that their programs are preparing students for “gainful employment” would risk losing their eligibility to participate in federal education grant and loan programs. The letter urges Duncan to “act quickly and decisively” to issue the rule to enable “long overdue federal enforcement” of the law.
While educating only about 10 percent of undergraduates, students at for-profit colleges are responsible for 44 percent of all defaults on their government-guaranteed college loans. This debt can follow these students for the rest of their lives.
“The civil and human rights community supports policies that maximize meaningful post-secondary educational and equitable employment opportunities,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, too many for-profit college recruitment practices targeted at vulnerable students appear to sacrifice ‘quality’ college opportunities in favor of ‘quantity’ profits for the institutions.”
“The proposed rule would provide significant protection to students, by sparing them entry into a proven dead-end educational track, while also sparing taxpayers otherwise on the hook for their student loans.” the letter said.
The full text of the letter is below.
The Honorable Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202
RE: Proposed “Gainful Employment” Rule, Docket ID ED-2010-OPE-0012
Dear Secretary Duncan:
On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States, along with the undersigned organizations, we write to express our collective support for a strong “gainful employment” rule.
The Department’s proposed regulation to define gainful employment under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and to protect students from programs that do not deliver on their marketed promises of a better future falls within our mission and has generated significant support from our members. In fact, many of our members – including the American Association of University Women, the American Federation of Teachers, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Council of La Raza, the National Education Association, and the United States Student Association – submitted comments in response to the Federal Register notice published on July 26, 2010. Accordingly, we urge the prompt adoption of a strong final gainful employment rule, one that will protect students and taxpayers no later than the 2012 academic year.
In order to be eligible to receive student financial aid grants and loans under Title IV, current federal law requires all post-secondary career education programs, including all public and nonprofit college programs of less than two years and nearly all for-profit college programs, to “prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” What constitutes “gainful employment,” however, has yet to be defined. The proposed rule, if finalized, would fill this void and enable long overdue federal enforcement, protecting students and taxpayers alike from millions of dollars in wasted Pell Grants and defaulted student loans.
The need for the rule is particularly urgent for students enrolled in the for-profit school sector. The American Prospect recently noted that “[f]or-profit schools have little incentive [now] to care whether their students land well-paying jobs; if graduates can’t pay back their loans, taxpayers will, because the federal government guarantees the loans.” Students enrolled in for-profit schools represent just 10 percent of all postsecondary students in the United States but account for 44 percent of all student-loan defaults. The proposed rule would provide significant protection to students, by sparing them entry into a proven dead-end educational track, while also sparing taxpayers otherwise on the hook for their federal student loans.
We support the approach in the proposed rule, which makes program eligibility under Title IV contingent on median student debt-to-income ratios and repayment rates. Such markers are sound proxies for meaningful preparation for employment and ensuring that students are not incurring unmanageable levels of student loan debt. Those programs that serve their students well will easily pass this review, narrowing the Department’s focus to those that fall short on delivering the American Dream.
These proposed protections are particularly important for (1) students of color, who represent about half of the undergraduate students in for-profit programs; (2) low-income students, who make up 6 in 10 for-profit college students; (3) women, who comprise nearly two-thirds of for-profit college undergraduates; and (4) armed-service members and veterans, a growing target student body for many of for-profit colleges since the passage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill:
To be clear, the civil and human rights community supports policies that maximize meaningful post-secondary educational and equitable employment opportunities. Unfortunately, too many for-profit college recruitment practices targeted at vulnerable students appear to sacrifice “quality” college opportunities in favor of “quantity” profits for the institutions. It is worth noting, however, that we do not believe all for-profit colleges are bad actors. The way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to finalize and enforce a vigorous gainful employment rule.
We understand the final comment period has closed. Given that opponents of the rule have asked the Department to retract, delay or weaken the regulation, however, we feel a strong need to communicate our members’ support for a strong regulation. In addition, on behalf of our members that did weigh in with the Department during the public comment process, we respectfully request a meeting with you to discuss the benefits of the proposed rule and to reply to claims by opponents.
Finally, as raised by some of our members during the comment period, many stakeholders believe the final rule should be stronger than the draft rule. For example, a number of organizations believe that students – and in particular the more vulnerable and underrepresented students who disproportionately attend for-profit colleges – deserve career education programs that are held to even higher standards than those that the Department has proposed. Given that student indebtedness and default rates are on the rise, we believe this is an important first step for the Department to take and one that should be taken immediately.
In closing, we agree with your recent observation that “some bad actors are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use.” To that end, we applaud the Department for proposing these regulations, which will provide much-needed oversight for career education programs that leave students with little other than burdensome debt and dashed dreams.We encourage the Department to act quickly and decisively and issue a final regulation.
We look forward to hearing back from your office regarding a meeting with members of The Leadership Conference. In order to schedule the meeting, or to discuss any of the points raised in this letter, please contact Dianne Piché, Leadership Conference Senior Counsel, at 202-466-3311.
Thank you for your consideration.
Wade Henderson Nancy Zirkin
President & CEO Executive Vice President
American Association of University Women
American Federation of Teachers
Center for Media and Democracy
Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network
Hip Hop Caucus
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Council of La Raza
National Education Association
National Partnership for Women and Families
National Women's Law Center
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Southern Poverty Law Center
United States Student Association
Cc: Sen. Tom Harkin
Sen. Michael Enzi
Rep. John Kline
Rep. George Miller
Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council
Gene B. Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council