During tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama will once again talk about his plans for higher education. And once again, those plans won’t be appropriately scrutinized.
One of the most under-covered aspects of President Obama’s big-government agenda is his administration’s attempt to direct student loans in a way that gives an edge to taxpayer-funded universities and squeezes out private options — effectively creating a government monopoly on higher education.
For months the Obama administration has been on a crusade to prop up taxpayer-subsidized, state-run colleges by attacking competing for-profit proprietary colleges that serve a growing number of non-traditional students. The administration’s ongoing assault has resulted in the onerous new “Gainful Employment” rule, which is applied only to for-profit schools, neglecting the abuses and shortcomings of public, private and community colleges. This rule was pushed by the activist Department of Education despite the objections of affected colleges and organizations like the National Urban League, which represent a particularly at-risk subset of American students.
Now, six months after Secretary of Education Arne Duncan finalized the administration’s Gainful Employment rule, the administration has acknowledged that the calculations that were used in the creation of the onerous rule were simply dead wrong. The error involves the effect that students’ race and ethnicity had on institutions’ repayment rates — instead of doing calculations using all minority students per institution, the administration only used data for a subset of minority students per institution. Basically, this rendered the calculations meaningless. (The irony of the Department of Education messing up basic math is not lost on me.)
The major reason that for-profit colleges have traditionally shown elevated default rates and reduced completion rates is that the population they serve primarily consists of non-traditional students, like first-generation immigrants and adult learners from minority populations, who are more likely to default on loans than the general population and less likely to graduate from college, regardless of the institutions they attend.
This administration is doing more harm than good in far too many industries already. Be it the health care sector, the auto sector, the financial sector of the education sector, the Obama administration thinks the government is better equipped than private companies to handle the challenges this country faces. The administration is wrong about that. This most recent assault on for-profit proprietary colleges is just more evidence of it.
Tim Miller most recently served as national press secretary for Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign. He is a Republican political consultant who has fought the Obama administration on education issues.