President Elect Trump's only comment on HBCUs came in a speech in Charlotte billed as a New Deal for Black America where he promised to “ensure funding for historical black colleges and universities.” Beyond that, we now see speculation among HBCUs and no response from the incoming administration . . . more.
Education Secretary John King on Monday rejected an appeal from ACICS regarding revocation of its status as a recognized accrediting body. This ruling threatens federal financial aid dollars for nearly 300 colleges with 600,000 students. Institutions accredited by ACICS have 18 months to find other accreditors, which are not required to accredit them.
The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity voted in June 2016 to deny the accrediting agency the recognition it needs to operate after it allowed some Corinthian Colleges campuses to continue operating after state and federal authorities accused it of fraud .
No one seems to know much about how Betsy DeVos - President Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education - is likely to approach her responsibilities to higher education. As the Chronicle article points out, this lack of a track record in higher education, and sometimes even in any area of education, is not unusual among Secretaries of Education.
Some are speculating that Ms. DeVos's views on charter schools and K-12 privatization will translate into a Department that will look more favorably upon the for-profit sector. From this inference, they go on to reason that she will roll back president Obama's largely successful initiatives to curtail the growth of for-profits and shift enrollments into the public sector.
We see another possibility.
A Secretary DeVos could instead make changes that some experts have been calling for in the interest of fairness. By exploiting the growing latitude of departmental rule making, DeVos could lead an effort to revise the metrics of public accountability and apply them equally to all three sectors of higher education. While this change would be viewed as the nuclear option for some the public and independent sectors, it could bring everyone to the table to work out more sound standards and metrics appropriate to the Department's role. This is a criticism of the Department and not a criticism or defense of any sector. Departmental rule making has become so suffused with ideology deriving from both sides of the aisle that its architecture reminds one of the contortions seen in Gerrymandered political districts. As the methodologists and measurement scientists at InterEd will tell you, the current Gainful Employment conceptual framework and metrics are bad science.
This meeting of the minds will not be easy. The public and independent sectors are unaccustomed to being held accountable for impact, and enrollments could be affected in the independent sector if the metrics are bad. For example, tuition and fees for a bachelor's degree in elementary education start at $30-40K per year and go up from there at faith-based independent colleges. Applying current Gainful Employment rules to Education and many other degrees linked to professions that have low pay scales and high education requirements would force dramatic reductions in tuition or closing hundreds if not thousands of degree programs across the country. This kind of risk exists to a lesser extent at the more expensive public colleges.
Why not take a more intelligent approach to Gainful Employment, one that is sector blind but recognizes the material differences across inputs, goals, and impact?
In defending a move like this, DeVos might argue, first, that it represents an approach that is more equal under the law and, second, that the changes might enliven the market while exerting a helpful downward pressure on tuition.
We see one other benefit to forcing the development of better criteria in the public's interest. In applying Gainful Employment as it has to the for-profit sector, the Department has opened the door for federal determination of program winners and losers.
Today, only one sector of higher education is prevented from offering degrees that may be personally enriching but do not lead directly to jobs that pay what the Department has determined to be acceptable. What about tomorrow? Can Congress and the Executive Branch be counted upon to exercise restraint against forces that would broaden the application of this regulation? Looking thorough the lens of whichever party would be in control, I can think of programs for which federal support would not be a priority.
Implicitly, the Department has determined that a for-profit university should be barred from offering degrees in photography, fine arts, music, or any of a number of degrees that prepare students for professions in which jobs and entry-level pay is low and variable. How about tomorrow? Upon taking a long and principled look at the Department's treatment of the for-profit sector, a few leaders in the public and independent sectors objected to what they saw. Most, however, were disinterested or saw these sector-specific controls as just deserts, which they were for some schools.
Negotiating the accountability regulations so that they are acceptable to all sectors seems to us like as permanent a solution as you get in Washington these days. The current environment in which rules and interpretations play out according to the political party in control seems to us like kicking the can down the road.
What could it hurt to negotiate revised Gainful Employment rules?
This Washington Post article outlines some of the potential changes a Trump administration might make to higher education regulations instituted during the Obama administration. Overall, many see this as an opportunity for the Republican to change or remove any or all of the regulations from the last eight years.
Specifically, it seems that Trump might make changes to the federal loan programs. The details are far from clear, but candidate Trump indicated that he would reduce the government's role in student lending. However, few think that a return to the previous program of subsidizing private lenders is likely. In addition, Trump also proposed loan repayment caps for borrowers and forgiveness after 15 years on the campaign trail.
It is more likely that the Trump administration will target the Obama-era regulations targeting for-profit universities. Specifically, the debt limits associated with gainful employment and the forgiveness process known as borrower defense to repayment face likely changes.
Education Dive's feature addresses recent changes related to attention to graduation rates among accreditation bodies.
- The Council of Regional Accreditation Commissions announced "more intensive review" of four-year schools with graduation rates of 25% or lower and two-year schools with rates 15% or below.
- Senators also introduced legislation focused on graduation and accreditation. The Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act of 2016 (AREAA) intends to fix a "broken" accreditation system by increasing attention on public accountability.
- Critics pointed to data inconsistencies in and among institutions as well as the limitations of the IPEDS graduation rate, which only includes first-time full-time students, who make up less than one-half of all college students.
- Critics also pointed out that differences between institutions an the type of students they serve have consequences for graduation rates. They suggested that evaluating all schools based on one metric makes little sense.
This is an early take by Inside Higher Ed on what the Trump victory might mean for higher education.
Observers suggested that the best indicators of what a Trump administration might focus on are policies already proposed by Republican Congress members. This uncertainty comes from the fact that the Trump campaign largely ignored higher education or made generic and confusing statements.
The article identified three potential targets for regulatory roll-back:
- The Obama administration's assault on for-profit colleges.
- The Obama administration's focus on sexual assault on campus.
- The Obama administration's efforts to strengthen labor unions and benefits on campus.