Two Perspectives on Gainful Employment

by Jane S. Shaw

Anyone who thinks that reformers on the right think alike should look at two assessments of the latest federal “gainful employment” regulations. Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity offers a scathing attack, while the Pope Center’s Jenna Ashley Robinson thinks that the rules have merit—and should be applied to all colleges, not just strictly vocational programs.

Aside from the authors’ differing styles, the articles differ on two main points. Vedder opposes the rules because they are directed mostly toward for-profit schools and because they are so stringent (“awful”): A graduate earning $35,000 ought to be able to pay $4,800 for a loan, he thinks.

In contrast, Robinson thinks that paying $400 a month for a student loan when one is earning $35,000 is a sign of excessive borrowing. While she agrees with Vedder that the for-profits are being unfairly singled out, she recommends that the rules be applied to all non-profits as well.

Vedder and Robinson agree that the government should not be in the college loan business. Vedder castigates the rules as another consequence of federal meddling. “Indeed, in a perfect world, the feds would exit the student loan business, replacing it with private entrepreneurs making loans or buying equity in future student earnings, thereby ending the need for ‘gainful employment’  regulation.”

But if they are implemented, the rules would likely reduce loans from the government, and that is a positive start, Robinson says: “Ever since the passage of the Higher Education Act in 1965, federal funding has been steadily ratcheting up—more money for more students to go to a huge array of schools. These rules are a long-overdue ratcheting down.”