Dig deeper into this morning’s Washington Post op-ed by Marc H. Morial, president and chief executive of the National Urban League, and you’ll find shockingly low expectations for how post-secondary institutions, funded almost entirely by federal student loans and grants, should serve poor and minority students. Morial writes:
The so-called gainful-employment rule…would establish fixed targets for student-debt-to-income ratios and new loan repayment rates that many traditional public and nonprofit institutions could not meet…. However, we are concerned that students who rely on federal loans might no longer have access to financial aid to attend the schools of their choice because the government will deny federal funds to students who attend for-profit institutions that can’t comply with the proposed rule.
Rather than advocate for programs that cost less, lead to better employment outcomes, or offer improved learning, Morial is defending the very worst institutions. The small percentage of programs that can’t comply leave students with crushing debt (annual loan payments above 30% of discretionary income) and have outcomes so bad that the vast majority of students are unable to repay loans (over 65%).
Morial goes on to parrot industry talking points that cast fear and uncertainty on the impact of the regulations:
Before this rule can be imposed, the Government Accountability Office or some other independent entity should conduct a thorough study of the likely effects of the proposed rule on access to education by minority students and students from low-income backgrounds.
Education Sector, an independent, nonpartisan entity, conducted such a study last year. My colleague Ben Miller found that only the worst programs, the bottom 4%, would be ineligible under the proposed regulations.
But, after asking for independent research, Morial proceeds to cite industry-funded “research,” a study from the Parthenon Group, which boasts that it “has been an advisor to nearly every major education transaction in the sector over the past several years.”:
If, as some analysts have predicted, as many as 360,000 students could be denied access by next year, the rule would have disastrous consequences for those who are at greatest risk of a life in poverty if they don’t obtain a college education.
Parthenon’s study says that the reason they think that the regulations will make many more schools ineligible for federal financial aid is because the students take on much more debt than assumed by Education Sector and other analyses. In other words, the “students at greatest risk of a life in poverty” that Morial worries about are those that he wants to be able to attend programs where the debt levels are even higher than reported.
Morial’s final tour de force is a dog whistle to historically black colleges and universities, raising the specter that these same regulations could be used against them. His argument cites an unsourced statistic from a commentary in Washington Post-owned TheRoot.com.* In reality, our research shows that even the smallest and least resourced HBCUs were able to help students dramatically lower student loan default rates when faced with federal regulation. Innovative and well-resourced career college companies could do the same.
The National Urban League does good and important work in cities across our country. Surely this type of an editorial is a mistake and not reflective of the type of education they expect from colleges serving their communities.
* Any journalism ethics experts want to weigh in? At what point does the Washington Post, which owns Kaplan and a large stake in Corinthian, companies impacted by the proposed regulations, need to deal in a different way with its inherent conflict of interest on this issue? To give an example of the echo chamber at play here, in Morial’s op-ed, he cites figures from an op-ed written opposing gainful employment on The Root, another Post-owned site.