ACE, Other Groups Comment on Education Department Draft Gainful Employment Rule
June 23, 2023

​ACE and nearly 50 other organizations warned the Department of Education (ED) in comments submitted June 20 that some of its proposed changes to gainful employment (GE) and a variety of other policies could be problematic.

In addition to GE, the over 1,000-page draft proposal that was released May 19 includes changes to financial responsibility, administrative capability, certification procedures, and ability to benefit, among other areas. ACE released a summary of the regulations in May.

The proposed GE rules include two tests that programs must pass. First, they would need to show that graduates can afford to pay off their debts. Second, graduates should be earning more than adults in their state who only have a high school diploma.

ED also plans to launch a new website, separate from the College Scorecard, to track data on all college programs to calculate and report debt-to-earnings (D/E) rates and an earnings premium (EP) metric. Previously, D/E rates were only calculated for programs subject to GE rules.

The letter notes that the groups support ED’s intent regarding increasing transparency and accountability for institutions of higher education. In particular, the groups support the usage of a six-digit Classification of Instructional Programs code, changes to improve data accuracy, the ability for institutions to choose transitional reporting periods, and the exclusion of students enrolled in comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs.

There were also a number of areas that the groups believe could be improved. Some of these areas include:

  • Calculating and responding to the D/E and EP rates: The groups note that while they understand ED’s goals in highlighting programs that are not serving students well, numerous factors remain that limit the utility of its formulas when it comes to measuring programmatic quality. Using these metrics, the groups’ calculations found concerning figures, such as only 12 percent of GE programs having sufficient data to calculate D/E rates, and sizeable shares of GE and non-GE programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions that could fail either the D/E or EP rate. The proposed methodology for determining these rates could be problematic, and the groups recommend reconsidering it. Additionally, the groups propose allowing institutions to correct any data that will be used, especially when Title IV eligibility is at stake.
  • Potential loss of Title IV eligibility for all programs: The proposed rule would enable ED to consider a variety of items when determining whether to certify an institution’s program participation agreement, enabling it to make a blanket determination to potentially deny an entire institution access to Title IV funding. This represents a significant, if indirect, expansion of GE provisions to all academic programs that greatly exceeds what is provided in statute, and the groups recommend that ED reconsiders.
  • Requiring programs to meet all state consumer protection laws related to closure, recruitment, and misrepresentations: The proposed rule would add additional requirements that all institutions meet the state consumer protection laws related to closure, recruitment, and misrepresentations. The groups share their concern regarding this new requirement and potential impacts on access to postsecondary education for students and the impact on institutions to comply with such standards.

The letter includes feedback on a variety of additional changes the groups believe ED should make to the proposed regulations, while also pointing out that the lack of specific standards and clear guidelines in all areas will make it difficult for institutions to figure out if they’re meeting the requirements.

ED received more than 7,500 comments on the proposed regulations. It will now review the comments and aims to issue a final rule by November 1, which would then take effect July 1, 2024.