The New Gainful Employment RegulationsUSEDgov (no, seriously, that's the US Department of Education's Twitter account) released the revised "Gainful Employment" regulations last week. The regulations govern financial aid eligibility for almost all degrees at for-profit institutions and non-degree programs (such as certificates) at public and private non-profit institutions, which are eligible for federal financial aid if they "prepare a student for gainful employment in a recognized occupation" rather than merely leading to a degree. The newly released standards are revisions of previous ones that were struck down by federal courts in 2012. The details:
- Fact Sheet: Details of the final regulations and its impact, Department of Education
The new regulations are built to promote accountability and transparency, according to the department. To remain eligible for federal aid, schools must certify that gainful employment programs "meet state and federal licensure, certification, and accreditation requirements" and that their graduates pay less than 8% of total earnings or less than 20% of discretionary earnings for student loan debt. The department eliminated cohort default rates from the accountability measures, which had been the subject of the litigation that struck down the previous version of the regulations. In addition, institutions will meet transparency requirements by making public disclosures of costs, debt, earnings, and completion rates for their programs. The regulations take effect July 1, 2015. About 1,400 programs enrolling 840,000 students (almost all of whom attent for-profit institutions) are expected to fail under the new regulations.
- New Gainful Employment Regulations Tied to State Authorization, WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
One consequence of the new regulation is that program certification and disclosure of licensure, certification, and accreditation information is required for all states in which an institution is required to seek state operating approval. Currently that is limited to states in which an institution has a physical presence. But any change in the general state approval regime, including changes related to distance education, will now change the requirements for gainful employment disclosure as well.
- Gainful Employment Arrives, Inside Higher Education
The initial release of the regulations appeared to make few happy. For-profit institutions' advocates claimed that the elimination of the cohort default rate standard was designed to minimize effects on community colleges; colleges argued that the regulations penalized institutions at which few students borrow to begin with. Both community college advocates and policy groups argued that the regulations will do little to stop predatory for-profit institutions, especially because they lack graduation rate standards. The debt-to-earnings ratio standard also includes only graduates rather than all students.
- How Gainful Employment Looks From Here, Inside Higher Education
Matt Reed notes that gainful employment may be a policy meant to address a misperceived problem. The transfer-vocational distinction is at the basis of community colleges' determination for which programs are gainful employment programs and which are not. That distinction is harder to maintain given the emergence of associate's degrees such as teacher education, engineering, and nursing that are oriented toward job qualification but must be completed at a four-year institution. Such programs are an increasingly large part of the community college mission, and can be expected to grow significantly, with the question of whether a student should go to a community college or a four-year school supplanted by the idea that students should do both. Gainful Employment policies may make that path more difficult.
The CCSF Accreditation TrialCity College of San Francisco's final attempt to thwart a July 2013 decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to revoke the college's accreditation went to court in a five day trial. The ACCJC, an arm of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, revoked CCSF's accreditation over financial inadequacies and assessment issues. CCSF contends that ACCJC failed to follow its own procedures, was rife with conflicts of interest, and retaliated against CCSF for the college's opposition to state legislation being pushed by the accreditor. A decision in the case is expected in December.
The San Francisco Examiner's Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez covered the trial, live tweeting and filing daily reports on the testimony.
- Day 1: "CCSF trial opens with testimony on Student Success Task Force, removal of trustees"
California Community Colleges Chancellor Bruce Harris testified that the system Board of Governors disempowered the college Board of Trustees and appointed a special trustee to administer the college following a conversation in which ACCJC President Barbara Beno said it was the only way to keep CCSF from losing its accreditation, and that she praised the Board of Governors' decision. He also testified that CCSF delivered above average academic success as indicated on the Student Success Score Card, but under cross-examination stated that the SSSC was unrealated to any accreditation standard. The court also heard testimony regarding the Student Success Task Force, a group that aimed to increase community colleges' focus on credential-seeking students. The task force is the centerpiece of the political retaliation allegations against ACCJC.
- Day 2: "City attorneys question accrediting commission president’s role in CCSF evaluation process"
Attorneys for CCSF presented evidence that Beno had suggested edits to visiting team leader Sandra Serrano's draft report. The edits strengthened findings regarding two accreditation standards that eventually led to ACCJC revoking CCSF's accreditation. Beno admitted that, contrary to ACCJC policy, CCSF was not given a chance to respond to these edits. Testimony from Beno and an expert witness for CCSF also considered whether the presence on the visiting team of Beno's husband, Laney College instructor Peter Crabtree, constituted a conflict of interest.
- Day 3: "Accreditation group president denies edits had intent to close CCSF"
Beno testified that her edits were suggestions and were not intended to lead to the college's closure. Not all of the suggestions that she made were accepted, and she stated that her focus was on the writing and consistency of the report. However, she did say that the evaluation team had initially concluded that CCSF met two standards that were the basis from the commission's revocation of the college's accreditation. Serrano testified that she did not consider the suggestions binding, but that she had not consulted the rest of the team about them as was normal practice. Those changes, CCSF attorney Matt Goldberg asserted, lead to the decision to revoke accreditation.
- Day 4: "City attorneys: Adequate warning not given on threat to close CCSF"
Beno testified that a 2006 accreditation report that the ACCJC argues warned CCSF about the threat to its accreditation did not include specific instructions to CCSF regarding the two standards that led to its loss of accreditation. What emerged as recommendations in 2006 were identified as deficiencies in 2012, triggering strong sanctions under ACCJC bylaws and leading to a show-cause status. Attorneys for the college also noted that the US Department of education had also issued a sanction against the ACCJC over the vague language, which Beno dismissed as preliminary. CCSF's accreditation liaison officer Gohar Momjian admitted that CCSF had been "less than honest" in its 2012 self-evaluation report. ACCJC Commissioner Marie B. Smith also testified that Beno did not influence the commission's decision to revoke the college's accreditation, and that CCSF had not responded to all eight of the original sanctions.
- Day 5: "Live testimony in CCSF trial concludes; both sides to make closing arguments next month"
ACCJC policy analyst Krista Johns testified that CCSF's appeal of the accreditation decision should have been heard by an panel independent of the commissioners but was chosen by Beno and included several people close to the ACCJC, including one who had publically criticized elected boards such as the one that had allowed conditions at CCSF to reach the point where its accreditation was in jeopardy. The ACCJC countered that the CCSF board did not appear at the appeal hearing, and that evidence provided by Interim Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman and Special Trustee Robert Agrella did not support keeping CCSF open. Witnesses testified that CCSF had unpaid retiree obligations and was teaching more students than it could afford to, and that millions of dollars expected from local and state ballot initiatives would be insufficient to change the college's condition.