Brian Whitehead served in the U.S. Army from 2000 to 2005 before moving to ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit chain of universities that closed in 2016. At ITT Tech from 2006 to 2008, he was studied computer science and electrical engineering and earned an associate degree. But he has never been able to find a job in his field since he graduated.
“During a campus tour at ITT, they bragged about their graduate placement rates, saying 90% of their graduates get jobs right off the bat, with average salaries starting at $60-70,000 a year. year,” Whitehead said. ” That was not true. The experience was nothing like what I was promised.
Whitehead ended up with around $50,000 in student loan debt, and his testimony is one of thousands of borrowers who have called for tighter regulation of the for-profit college industry. The US Department of Education (ED) has since discovered that ITT Tech has made exaggerated claims about its graduates getting jobs.
“ITT may be closed, but I have to live with the debt and frustration they left behind,” Whitehead said.
Greater oversight of the for-profit college sector may be underway. Next week, ED will begin debating a rule that could more strictly regulate for-profit companies. In public sessions called negotiated settlements, ED negotiators will discuss several issues with stakeholders, including student loan advocates and for-profit college representatives. One of these issues will be a rule called Gainful Employment (GE).
During a press briefing this week, several experts and education policy advocates said this GE rule is key to holding for-profit companies accountable.
The federal Higher Education Act (HEA) requires that all career education programs that receive federal student aid “prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” But HEA does not define “paid employment”. So in 2014, ED passed a rule that defines GE to ensure that graduates of federally-funded vocational education programs earn enough money to pay off the debt they incurred to enroll in programs. During the Trump administration, however, this GE rule was rolled back and has yet to be reinstated under Biden.
Meanwhile, student completion rates at for-profit colleges remain on average lower than at non-profit colleges. Student loan default rates are also higher on average among people who attend for-profit institutions than those who attend nonprofits.
“We should restore the original promise of the higher education law,” Amanda Martinez, senior education policy analyst at UnidosUS, a Latin American civil rights organization, said at the press conference. this week. “It was a civil rights law based on the idea that education is essential for all Americans… But in an unregulated market, that promise is broken by one specific sector: for-profit corporations. “
Martinez highlighted how students of color disproportionately enroll in for-profit organizations, which she says makes for-profit regulation a matter of racial justice and civil rights. A July 2021 report from the Student Borrower Protection Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and advocacy group, found that for-profit schools are about twice as likely to be located in predominantly Latino or predominantly Black ZIP codes compared to to predominantly white postcodes..
Still, when ED rules are crafted next week, GE will be one of seven topics on the table. Jared Bass, senior director of the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan political institute, said he wondered how much airtime GE would get versus other critical issues for debate.
“It will also be interesting to see what changes the Department makes,” Bass added during the press conference. “To what extent will the department rely on the gainful employment rule 2014? Will there be a significant deviation from this?
For Amy Laitinen, director of higher education at New America, a public policy think tank, a GE rule is essential to implementing the law already in place under the HEA. She and Bass also noted that they will be curious to see what alliances form between negotiators as the rules for GE are crafted.
“Who will end up supporting this – and who won’t?” Laitinen said at the press conference. “We know that the for-profit industry in particular has fought gainful employment every step of the way over the past decade. But it will be interesting to see how the other factions line up on this.
Whitehead said he will be watching for-profit college regulations closely: “Schools must be held accountable for their lies because they have the power to destroy our lives.”
Rebecca Kelliher can be contacted at [email protected]