Federal policy

Education Department raises hackles over clock hour definition

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The Education Department's take on the definition of "clock hour" programs is too broad and could unfairly cut into federal aid, say a Texas state agency and for-profits.

Catholic, Christian colleges challenge contraception coverage clause

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Contraception provisions in the federal health care law are at the center of a dispute between religious colleges and the Obama administration.

Budget compromise would preserve maximum Pell grant, NIH funding

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A budget compromise would slightly increase funding for the National Institutes of Health and change eligibility for the largest federal grant program for college students.

Majority of senators sign letter opposing Defense Department rules

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To win Republican senators' support, letter opposing new Defense Department policies on tuition assistance was changed to eliminate references to for-profit colleges as "subpar" institutions.

ITT's federal compliance scramble differs from Corinthian's shut down

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ITT's missed deadline with the Education Department prompts comparisons to Corinthian Colleges. But ITT is on firmer ground.

Essay questions use of anecdotal stories in for-profit debate

There is a pattern of dishonesty taking place in some of the criticism of for-profit colleges. Too frequently, opponents of the sector take advantage of students and use an individual as a “straw man” to try to prove a point about student debt and tuition.  

It is an attack by anecdote. Or more precisely, attack by false and partial anecdote.

The latest example is a filing from the Education Trust on the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed “gainful employment” (GE) rule. The rule would impose strict loan default and debt-to-earnings standards on private-sector colleges that would close the door to higher education opportunities for hundreds of thousands of minority and low-income students. 

In their filing, the Education Trust references by first name an anonymous student from Kaplan University, using a quote from her as firsthand evidence of someone allegedly burdened by debt because of high tuition. 

We know the student’s full story -- and, not surprisingly, the allegation is untrue. The quote claims that “tuition … ate up” the student’s financial aid.  In reality, Kaplan University’s average actual cost is less than most private, nonprofit colleges and many tax-supported public institutions. This student came to Kaplan with significant debt incurred elsewhere -- including a nonprofit institution whose tuition is significantly greater than ours. 

It was also alleged that we “maxed out her loans.” In reality the Education Department requires institutions to allow students to borrow up to the maximum amount for which they qualify. To cover personal expenses, students can take on debt far in excess of what is needed for tuition. Under the law, we cannot limit this. Particularly in non-residential, adult-serving institutions, these dollars do not stay with us -- the funds go to the student to cover his or her living expenses. Student academic success, such as the need to repeat failed courses, will also impact total cost and debt.

Sometimes, purveyors of these testimonials disclose full names. When a group calling themselves the “Young Invincibles” took to Capitol Hill last month to talk about student debt, it brought along 28-year-old Dymond Blackmon, who said he had incurred $90,000 in debt from pursuing an associate degree. Flanked by four U.S. senators, he said he did not make enough money to pay back loans from his photography program. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, the institution Blackmon attended had tuition and fees of $14,000 a year. Clearly, there’s more to the story than the tuition charged by his institution.

For most students, completing college takes a lot of work and often does not go as planned. Some students take on debt at multiple institutions, need to repeat courses extending their course of study, or borrow more than needed. These details are rarely acknowledged, and those that put the spotlight on these individuals know the schools are prohibited by law from discussing a student’s details and, to protect our students, we are loath to do so.

Student loan debt is a problem. But solving it will require more than finger-pointing.

Policy should permit schools to limit loans for a particular course of study, helping us align debt with expected earnings in the field. College can be made more affordable if student loans are managed, in part, by people who share a big stake in seeing their students succeed -- the schools in which they enroll. 

Using misleading anecdotes may be a clever way to make an argument, but it doesn’t help illuminate the issue. Permitting colleges to help manage borrowing is the real issue here, and it is no straw man. 

Wade Dyke is president of Kaplan University.

New book on STEM workforce needs and international competitiveness finds no evidence of crisis

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A new book challenges the conventional notion that the U.S. is producing too few science and engineering graduates to meet its workforce needs and remain globally competitive. 

Job-training bill gets an upgrade thanks to bipartisan compromise

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Congress gets praise for cutting a bipartisan deal to replace the primary federal job-training law, but proposed bill is not a major change.

Corinthian Colleges contemplates sale amid declining enrollment and revenue

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Troubles mount for Corinthian Colleges, a slumping for-profit, which this week signaled it was open to a sale or merger.

Republicans spar with administration over gainful employment and college ratings

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Arne Duncan goes to Capitol Hill and gets an earful from House Republicans on gainful employment, the college ratings system and state authorization.

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