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'Gainful Employment' Rules Garner New Attention

A coalition of consumer-advocate and civil rights groups sent a letter to President Obama yesterday, urging enforcement "gainful employment" rules to rein in abusive practices by career education programs. Also, the U.S. Department of Education announced hearings to elicit feedback from the higher education community on new measures to distinguish successful from unsuccessful programs.

The administration is trying again to find a way to regulate career training—many of which takes place at for-profit colleges—after a U.S. District Court struck down the administration's initial attempt to define what it meant for a program to provide "gainful employment in a recognized occupation." The court affirmed the government's authority to regulate in this area, but now the department is looking for input on what the best measures or thresholds should be, and how best to construct an accountability system, according to a statement posted Monday on its website.

Hearings will be held in May in San Francisco, Minneapolis, and the District of Columbia on gainful employment, along with distance learning, campus safety, and other issues. The information will be used to draft topics to be considered by rule-making committees in the fall.

The coalition's April 15 letter notes that accounts of deceptive marketing, coercive recruiting, false reporting to authorities, poor quality teaching, and illusory job-placement efforts at career education programs are emerging, and students are being hurt by these practices. "More than half of the students who enrolled in for-profit colleges in a recent year dropped out within about four months, without a degree or certificate," the letter states. "For-profit colleges have 13 percent of the students, but 47 percent of student-loan defaults. ... Abuses by for-profit colleges imperil your efforts to help Americans successfully train for careers at prices they can afford."

The letter notes that as a result of government and media investigations, there is much stronger public awareness and anger toward unscrupulous programs now as compared with just a few years ago.

The coalition appealing to the president for renewed leadership to issue a strengthened gainful employment rule was made up of 43 groups including the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Campus Progress Action, Public Citizen, the Education Trust, U.S. PIRG, NAACP, National Association for College Admission Counseling, American Association of University Women, and Young Invincibles.

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