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What the Wonks Are Saying About the Final Gainful-Employment Rule

The U.S. Department of Education released the full text of its final gainful-employment rule on Thursday morning, and it’s a big one, weighing in at 945 pages. But sheer volume has never been enough to discourage the most devoted of higher-education observers: the diehard policy wonks, who took to Twitter with observations and analysis.

The biggest change, as The Chronicle’s Kelly Field noted, is the elimination of cohort default rates as a measure that career-education programs will be subject to, leaving the debt-to-earnings ratio as the sole metric. It’s a win for community colleges, which had protested the use of default rates. Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at Demos, posed the simple question: Why the change?

(For more on the rule’s legal history, read this article from 2012.) Ben Miller, a senior policy analyst at the New America Foundation, chimed in that the adjustment might make lawsuits challenging the rule less likely to succeed. Noah Black, vice president for public affairs at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, argued that the move was in keeping with the Obama administration’s bias in favor of public institutions:

(Mr. Black was alluding to the department’s decision in September to exempt colleges facing penalties because of their cohort default rates.) But, as Mr. Miller pointed out, the change does spare a significant number of for-profits from penalties too:

Whatever the rationale for the elimination, it left one gaping hole in the rule, Mr. Miller wrote:

What he meant, as he detailed in this helpful blog post, is that because a dependence on a debt-to-earnings gauge measures only how well a program’s graduates fare, programs with lots of dropouts will not be held accountable.

Sen. Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, stressed the same point in a statement. “Today’s action by the Department of Education seeks to address the first problem, but does little to ensure that colleges stop offering poor-quality programs where most of the students drop out,” he said.

Carlo Salerno, a former education economist, pointed out another concern, the regulatory burden placed on colleges:

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