Advocates for America’s for-profit colleges have a weakness for suggesting doomsday scenarios if the Department of Education implements its “Gainful Employment” rule, which will make career colleges ineligible for federal financial aid if average graduates need to spend more than 8 percent of starting salaries to service student loans. In fact, for-profit schools could already make sure the rule won’t be so difficult on students.

As the Washington Post’s Donald Graham writes in the Wall Street Journal:

With countries around the world turning their focus to education to build long-term competitive advantage, now is not the time to pull back on college access here. To avoid the disaster that is shaping up for lower-income students who want a higher education, it’s time to take a second look at our government’s current plans.

Since it’s mostly low-income Americans who attend for-profit schools, so the reasoning goes, anything that will impede for-profit schools will hinder the ability of poor students to access higher education. For shame!

Now let’s leave aside for a moment the seemingly obviously fact that poor students should attend the cheapest schools possible, not one of the more expensive kinds. This is not exactly major news here but I’d once again like to highlight a point made by Education Sector’s Ben Miller about for-profit school back in December, 2009:

But surely the fact that [the University of] Phoenix, for example, spends over $100 million a year on advertising, is the biggest purchaser of online ads, and has a stadium named after itself, plays some role in determining who these schools attract.

For-profit schools spend millions of dollars in aggressively marketing themselves, especially to lower-income students; these efforts pay off and lower-income students enroll; but when these students leave school and default on their debt, this is solely a result of demographic factors that the school cannot control. That’s a ridiculous line of argumentation. Either take responsibility for the students you enroll or don’t go out of your way to market and enroll them.

Gainful employment rules don’t mean anyone’s going to be thrown out of college, not if for-profit colleges have any interest in educating their students anyway. Just help the students leave with less onerous debt and students won’t have so much trouble paying the debt off.

This is not going to be a disaster if proprietary schools plan ahead for these changes. [Image via]

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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