CAP Panelists Discuss New Gainful Employment Rules

By Lauren Koehler
This post first appeared on

On Wednesday, November 5, the Center for American Progress hosted a panel discussion about the new gainful employment rule established by the U.S. Department of Education last week. The panel featured Kevin James of the American Enterprise Institute; Trace Urdan, an analyst at Wells Fargo; Nancy Zirkin of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; and Anne Johnson, Executive Director of Generation Progress.

Gainful employment refers to the ideal situation in which individuals receive adequate employment and compensation. However, some institutions of higher education are more successful than others in providing their graduates with appropriate opportunities for gainful employment.

More specifically, for-profit colleges have recently been targeted for some of their business practices. With their low graduation rates, low job placement rates, and high student debt burdens placed upon their students, many have criticized the for-profit education sector and have called for increased regulation. This was one of the major points of focus during the panel.

The new rules established by the Department of Education put forth increased regulation and higher standards for career training programs in order to protect students from predatory recruiting practices, as well as high amounts of debt they cannot afford to repay after graduation.

“We see education as a fundamental civil and human right,” said Zirkin. “It’s very important for the underserved communities, which are overrepresented in for-profit schools, to have a quality education so they can have gainful employment.”

She discussed the concerning lack of accountability among for-profit schools, noting one of the primary reasons why the Department of Education rules were necessary.

Johnson mentioned the importance of reforming the education system, calling it “increasingly dysfunctional” and adding that for-profits play a key role in this dysfunction. She talked about Generation Progress’s Higher Ed Not Debt campaign and the work being done there to improve educational opportunities for students.

“75 percent of students who are enrolled at for-profit colleges actually go to a school that is either publicly traded or owned by a private equity firm,” said Johnson, referencing the appropriate need for increased regulation. “Higher education is not about providing stability to Wall Street investors.”

Urdan, who represented the other side of the issue, noted that for-profit colleges have actually expanded access to education. James agreed, adding that the problem with the new rules is that they are targeted at one sector. Both Urdan and James insisted that community colleges should be investigated and targeted as well, not just for-profit colleges.

Because of the ideological split on the issue, the panel discussion was lively. But however the issue is looked at, the new rules are a step in the right direction to holding for-profit institutions accountable for the harm they cause many vulnerable students.

Lauren Koehler is a communications intern at Generation Progress.

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