POLITICS: White House

New Education Department rules help elite college students at the expense of poor and minorities

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Politics,Opinion,White House,Education,Op-Eds,Louisiana,Student Loans,Bobby Jindal,Higher Education,Gainful Employment

You have to hand it to President Obama: He sure does do a good job of socking it to the folks he claims to be helping.

Tuesday marked the end of the comment period on the Education Department's proposed new “gainful employment” regulations. While the administration says it wants to expand educational opportunities, the proposed rules would target community colleges and for-profit colleges -- institutions that educate disproportionately poor, minority, and working-class Americans.

But even as the administration imposes new burdens on schools educating non-traditional students, the Education Department would exempt all four-year colleges from the new rules. It creates a very simple bottom line: The proposed regulations will discourage these non-traditional schools from taking chances on students, and programs, that many elite schools wouldn’t even bother considering in the first place.

Compare that attempt to decimate opportunities for non-traditional schools and students with the taxpayer largesse lavished on many elite universities. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that enrollment in certain types of student loan repayment plans soared by 40 percent in just six months. These plans, revamped and enhanced by Obama in 2011, cap graduates' repayment plans at a percentage of discretionary income, and forgive all outstanding loan balances in 20 years -- or 10 years for those in public service, as defined by the government.

The Journal also highlighted how elite professional schools are helping their graduates pay back their own student loans, until the federal government forgives their debt entirely. Until recently, Georgetown University’s law school website bragged that “public interest borrowers might not pay a single penny on their student loans — ever!”

It’s nice work if you can get it. Georgetown — with an endowment of “only” $1.3 billion — spent $2 million covering the student loan payments of 432 law school graduates, an average of $4,629 per graduate. After 10 years at that average amount, Georgetown would have repaid the federal government less than what one year’s worth of law school tuition costs now. But the federal government would forgive all the remaining debt — leaving both the borrower and the institution off the hook for loan balances that could remain in the six figures.

Georgetown’s law school dean claimed that his school’s publicly stated policy of allowing students not to repay a dime in loans until the federal government forgives them outright “doesn’t influence the prices the school charges its students.” If you believe that, I’ve got some land I’d like to sell you.

The message from this administration couldn’t be clearer. If you want to attend an elite professional school, you could end up having tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt forgiven by your school — and the federal government. But if you’re a struggling African-American single mother relying on a certificate program at a for-profit school or a community college, and you like your current educational plan — under this administration, you have about as much chance of keeping it as you do your health plan.

This disparity in the way the administration treats different methods of higher education ranks high on the snob scale -- but it isn't just mere liberal elitism. It is tantamount to redlining educational opportunities for low-income and minority youths. The first programs to disappear under the “gainful employment” regulations will be the ones that try to give Americans their first rung on the higher education and career ladders. As we've just seen, elite law schools are doing fine -- it's certificate and two-year degree programs that would be hardest-hit.

These policies aren't just unfair -- they're also short-sighted. Right now in Louisiana, we have more good-paying jobs than we can find workers to fill them. To ensure our economy achieves its full potential, we need more of the technical training, certificate, and other programs that non-traditional institutions can help supply. That's why our budget includes a new $40 million higher education grant program, with a particular focus on giving workers the practical skills they need to succeed in today's global economy.

Certainly, many students at traditional universities are struggling with rising debt levels, especially as they struggle to find good-paying jobs in the Obama economy. And it is also true there are bad actors in the non-traditional education community. But, the answer to both of these challenges includes more competition and choice, not less.

Like Obama, I was fortunate enough to graduate from an Ivy League school. But unlike the president, I understand that the universe doesn't end at the gates of Harvard Yard -- and our nation's educational opportunities shouldn't either. I believe in public service, but when even the Brookings Institution calls the administration's student loan forgiveness program “poorly designed,” and warns it could cost tens of billions per year, it's time for us to reorient our priorities.

Obama should not just spend time and money subsidizing those already at the top of the career ladder, but should focus on creating opportunities for those just looking to get on the first rung.

Bobby Jindal, a Republican, is governor of Louisiana. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.
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