Despite increasing college attendance rates over the last 20 years, there’s a major barrier to achieving President Obama’s goal of producing five million more college graduates by 2020: we’re too damn poor. According to an editorial by Marc Morial in the Washington Post:

Statistics show that there are more Americans below the poverty line now than when President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty. We must use every arrow in our collective quiver to reverse this devastating trend.

The Urban League is dedicated to fighting poverty by empowering youth in underserved communities through education and job training. We have found that a college education, whenever it is possible, is the best path to employment.

Now by some tortured logic Morial, the president of the National Urban League, has managed to conclude that because of this high poverty rate the Department of Education should give up on its gainful employment rule, which would limit the debt for-profit schools can leave their students. “As many as 360,000 students could be denied access by next year,” Morial writes. “The rule would have disastrous consequences for those who are at greatest risk of a life in poverty if they don’t obtain a college education.”

This is ridiculous. Those estimated 360,000 people (a tiny percentage of American college students) are those attending the very worst for-profit institutions. The “education” those students are receiving is essentially just a worthless debt burden. These are not people taking advantage of their right to higher education; those are people caught up in scams.

Still, the point Morial makes at the beginning of his piece is relevant. At the same time we’re expecting more people to go to college, there are also far, far more poor people in American than there were 40 years ago. As the cost of college continues to escalate, maybe it’s time to consider some better ways to help low income Americans access higher education.

Morial seems to think the solution is more student debt and unhindered for-profit colleges. I beg to differ.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer