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Gainful-Employment Rule Without Sanctions?

January 30, 2018

The U.S. Department of Education on Monday distributed proposals for rewriting the gainful-employment rule, which the Trump administration halted last summer. The department's do-over on the vocational education rule, which applies to for-profit college programs and to nondegree programs at nonprofit colleges, continues with a negotiated rule-making session next week.

The feds' proposal would expand gainful employment to all academic programs that are eligible for federal aid. But, as many observers expected, the regulations would lose their teeth -- low-performing programs would no longer face the possibility of being tagged "failing" and lose federal aid eligibility because of their graduates' debt-to-earning ratio, as was the case under the Obama administration's version of gainful employment.

"We propose to change the focus of these regulations from programs that prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation to all 'educational programs,'" the department said in one of its issue papers. "We propose to amend section 668.403 so that programs are no longer considered to be 'passing' or 'failing' based on their debt-to-earnings rates. Instead, we propose to refer to programs as 'acceptable' if they meet the established standards, and 'low-performing' if they do not meet the established standards."

Under the proposal, low-performing programs would be required to notify students about graduates' ability to pay back their loans. But sanctions would not go beyond information disclosure requirements.

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Paul Fain

Paul Fain, Contributing Editor, came to Inside Higher Ed in September 2011, after a six-year stint covering leadership and finance for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul has also worked in higher ed P.R., with Widmeyer Communications, but couldn't stay away from reporting. A former staff writer for C-VILLE Weekly, a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., Paul has written for The New York Times, Washington City Paper and Mother Jones. He's won a few journalism awards, including one for beat reporting from the Education Writers Association and the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award. Paul got hooked on journalism while working too many hours at The Review, the student newspaper at the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in political science in 1996. A native of Dayton, Ohio, and a long-suffering fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Fain plays guitar in a band with more possible names than polished songs.

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