Leveling the Playing Field for Private Colleges and Universities

Leveling the Playing Field for Private Colleges and Universities
AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Stan Carroll

America faces the stark reality of a national nursing crisis, yet some members of Congress are increasing partisan attacks against the colleges and institutions training much needed health care professionals. These attacks appear short-sighted, given the current reality. According to recent news reports, 126,000 nursing positions presently remain unfilled and by 2020, the projected nursing shortfall is estimated at 400,000.

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Health care experts estimate the shortage will increase as the Baby Boomers age and the need for health care expands. The American Nurses Association contends that several other factors, including the economic recovery, the Affordable Care Act, market changes, and care coordination, are all contributing to the demand for more nurses.

Private colleges and universities are an important asset in educating and training nurses who fill these crucial positions. These are jobs often filled by single mothers, mothers looking for shift work while raising young families, returning veterans, and recently divorced women. These institutions offer non-traditional students the opportunity for a good vocational education and training which will lead to decent and well paying jobs upon graduation.

Some Democrat members are vocal critics of private college education and attack the Department of Education’s efforts to roll back the previous Administration’s regulations that sought to close many for-profit and non-profit schools.

One such regulation is known as the “Borrower Defense to Repayment” rule which was proposed by the Obama administration as a mechanism to protect federal-student-loan borrowers against private colleges or universities that employ fraudulent advertising tactics. The language of the modified rule, however, is broadly written and disproportionately favors borrowers. Moreover, the regulation gives them a wide berth when it comes to discovering creative ways to zero out their federal student loan balance and, as a result, leaves taxpayers to foot the bill.

A wiser strategy would have been to establish clearly defined guidelines regarding exemption eligibility, and transparent procedures on how private colleges and universities may appeal allegations of fraud. This would have created a framework that safeguards borrowers and institutions. Accordingly, this is a fix the current Education Department, led by Secretary DeVos, is implementing.

Another ill-conceived regulation the Administration is attempting to correct is the “Gainful Employment” rule, which withdraws federal funding from for-profit and nonprofit career programs whose graduates have unacceptable—as arbitrarily determined by the federal government—levels of student-loan debt relative to their income.

This is another poorly devised regulation that fails to consider geography and occupation. As economists would agree, the cost of living varies depending on your city or state, and some occupations command higher salaries than others. Nurses and law enforcement personnel, for example, generally have higher starting salaries than teachers or graphic designers. Therefore, a nurse working in the suburbs of New York City, will likely earn more than a nurse in a small rural town in Kentucky. As a result, the rule is applied unfairly and is far too general in its scope and application. The Education Department is correct in attempting to rescind the rule and protect private colleges and universities from being exposed to an arbitrary rule.

The current Education Department is making great strides towards repealing and streamlining guidelines issued during the previous Administration. The new rules aim to create a fairer system that allows a diverse range of colleges and universities to meet the needs of those in their communities, whether online or in a traditional college setting.

America should not face a national shortage of health care professionals. Students who are interested in a medical profession have the option to choose from institutions that are public, private, for-profit, and non-profit. Private college education - schools offering students career-specific degrees - should be allowed to flourish. It’s time for the partisan politics to end and to stop unfairly attacking private, vocational, or career-oriented schools.

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