The Obama administration’s efforts to step up oversight of for-profit colleges picked up a key endorsement last week when a group of civil rights leaders announced support for the proposed rules.
In a letter to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said the proposed regulations “are particularly important for students of color, who represent about half of the undergraduate students in for-profit programs.” While Black and Hispanic students represent 28 percent of all undergraduates nationwide, they account for nearly 46 percent of those attending for-profit colleges.
While the organization said many of its individual members have previously expressed support for the plan, the group thought it was important now to speak as one voice on the topic.
“The proposed rule would provide significant protection to students, by sparing them entry into a proven dead-end educational track, while also sparing taxpayers otherwise on the hook for their federal student loans,” said the letter, endorsed by a cross-section of groups including the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center and the United States Student Association.
Under the rules, the federal government would tie student aid eligibility at for-profit colleges to student earnings in the form of median student debt-to-income ratios and repayment rates. The for-profit sector has vehemently attacked the plan as unfair, saying it could force many for-profit colleges out of business because they would lose access to federal aid programs.
The issue also has divided some in the minority community. The Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition has said the proposed rules are too broad and may harm some private colleges that are working effectively with low-income students. National Urban League President Marc Morial also has expressed opposition to the rules, and at least a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus have signed a letter expressing similar concerns.
In supporting the proposed rules, the civil rights coalition noted that it is not targeting all for-profit institutions.
“We do not believe all for-profit colleges are bad actors,” says Leadership Conference President Wade Henderson. “The way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to finalize and enforce a vigorous gainful employment rule.”
Blacks attending these schools are incurring significant debt, the group noted, pointing out that in 2007-08, about 86 percent of Blacks attending for-profit colleges took out student loans, compared with 29 percent of Blacks at public or nonprofit colleges.
Data published by the Education Department last week showed that, using a new federal calculation for student loan defaults, students in the for-profit sector had a 25 percent loan default rate for 2008. This rate was significantly above the 10.8 percent rate at public colleges and a rate at private colleges of 7.6 percent.
The civil rights organization also is requesting a meeting with Duncan to discuss benefits of the gainful employment proposals and respond to opponents’ claims.
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