Scott Jaschik reports in Inside Higher Ed:
On Friday, the Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Postsecondary Education, Eduardo M. Ochoa, told a meeting of college presidents that the Department was proceeding with "gainful employment" regulations that would bar federal aid from career-oriented programs at which large percentages of graduates fail to earn enough money to pay back their student loans.
The proposed regulations have been opposed by the for-profit higher education industry -- which would feel most, but not all, of the impact. Last week Ochoa gave another talk in which he suggested that there would be major changes in the next version of the regulations. The next version will be "significantly different," Ochoa said in a talk at the meeting of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
But on Friday, Ochoa spoke only positively of the regulations. He acknowledged that the regulations represented “a new direction for federal regulation” of higher education in that they moved beyond reliance on accreditation for quality control. But he said that the additional oversight they involved was appropriate, and was required by statute. In the interview, he sidestepped questions about whether his position had changed since he predicted major changes in the regulations earlier in the week. But he said that the talk here was to a different audience and with a “different context.”
Ochoa also reassured those here that they need not fear that the regulations would be applied to all of higher education – as some advocates for for-profit colleges have suggested would be appropriate. And recent articles about the high prices and questionable job outcomes for graduates of law and other professional schools have also raised this possibility.
He said he understood that some educators at colleges not covered by the regulations have “a legitimate concern about the danger of conflating the operational definition of quality” with the debt/income ratios in the proposed rules. The concern, he said, is that such a policy would “flatten the definition of quality.” Ochoa said he wanted “to assure you that the department is fully cognizant” of the role of “liberal education as the foundation not only of degrees in liberal arts and sciences but also for professional degrees.” He said that, as a business dean earlier in his career, he was aware of the importance of courses outside the business school to broaden his students’ education.
Educational quality, Ochoa said, “cannot be reduced solely to the ability to get a first job after graduation.” But at the same time, he said, for career-related programs, definitions of quality “must include employability,” and “that’s what gainful employment is all about