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New Gainful Employment Rule Falls Short

The new gainful employment rule is a step in the right direction but it leaves much to be desired.

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Today the Department of Education released the final version of its gainful employment rule, a measure many hoped would require career-education programs—particularly at for-profit colleges—to make sure their students get a high-value education. The rule is a step in the right direction but it leaves much to be desired.

High dropout and student loan default rates in many for-profit college career programs spurred the rule, and it is based on the simple premise that students who attend career-preparation programs should be able to earn enough money upon graduation to pay off the debt they accrued pursuing their education.

The rule released today differs in many ways from the draft version the department issued in July 2010. The changes represent an effort to work with career colleges and give them an opportunity to reform. But by giving so many chances for colleges to change the final rule also gives the department and other policymakers more work to do to help students choose high-value programs and protect the taxpayer investment in financial aid.

Policymakers should respond to the rule with support, but they should make more of an effort to give students information about the risks of college. And they should find other ways to hold colleges accountable for how they serve students.

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