Citing the need to protect students of color, a group of civil rights organizations Wednesday called on Congress to reject a House Republican plan that would prevent the Obama administration from issuing new rules on the operation of for-profit career colleges.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and other groups said the administration’s proposed “gainful employment” rules would take significant steps to rein in unsavory practices at some private career colleges. But they said a GOP amendment now pending in the House of Representatives would gut the gainful employment rule, leaving many at-risk students vulnerable to high levels of debt in low-quality education programs.
The GOP plan “would hobble the administration’s ability to protect students from for-profit colleges that have used the American Dream as bait to trap vulnerable students into underperforming schools and saddle them with a lifetime of debt,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference.
Under the gainful employment rule, for-profit colleges whose students have high levels of debt in relation to their post-school earnings could lose access to federal financial aid programs.
The proprietary sector has fought back against the administration’s proposal, saying it could force many schools out of existence. The new chairman of the House education committee, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., also wants to stop the Education Department from issuing a final rule. Kline is trying to attach his amendment to a bill, H.R. 1, that would fund the U.S. Education Department and other agencies for the remainder of fiscal year 2011.
That bill is on the House floor this week.
While some Congressional Black Caucus members and urban educators have spoken out against the gainful employment rule, the Leadership Conference on Wednesday convened a diverse group to show support for the administration’s plan.
“I want to protect those who need protection the most – undereducated and vulnerable individuals,” said Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill.
Students of color represent half of the student population at for-profit colleges, said Beth Glenn, NAACP national education director. While many for-profits deliver a quality education, others leave students with “crushing debt in exchange for a questionable future.”
Of the many African American and Hispanic students at these schools, she said, “They deserve real education opportunities and real consumer protection.”
About one-third of Latinos in higher education attend for-profit institutions, said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He said that while some of these institutions provide training for careers, others provide low-quality education “leaving students in debt when they are trying to support their families.”
Even if it passes H.R. 1 this week, the House still would need the support of the Democrat-controlled Senate to make the ban take effect. Proponents of the gainful employment rule said they are prepared to press their case regardless of the House vote.
“We support the Department of Education’s efforts to hold these schools accountable by issuing this rule and vigorously enforcing it,” Zirkin said.