Gainful Employment, Pell, Federal Regulations We Should Have, and Federal Regulations We Don’t

20 Feb

Yesterday, the House added an amendment to a bill that blocked efforts to regulate for-profit college programs. The big debate stems from the right to “gainful employment” in higher for-profit education. What is “gainful employment?”

Gainful employment is the promise to a student who has attended an accredited university program that the training received at the university will adequately prepare to student to enter the workforce (i.e. the promise of competitive job opportunity so the student can pay off thousands of dollars of debt).

Because federal funds are used to supply students with grants to attend colleges, for-profit or not, some citizens and officials are concerned that many for-profit colleges draw out the training programs or offer bunk programs to attract students to the school in order to receive funds. The concern is what happens to students once they leave these programs; are they actually qualified for the workforce?

The regulations on for-profit colleges regarding gainful employment aim to reduce waste and abuse in the for-profit education system. Some of the regulations include requiring colleges to disclose factual graduation and job placement rates of each eligible program (an eligible program can receive federal funding), ensure that only eligible students receive federal funds, prevent misrepresentation of programs by college recruiters, and require states to enforce existing laws that obligate the states to approve and monitor post-secondary programs that receive federal aid.

Here is a link comprising a summary of regulations on for-profit colleges regarding gainful employment (and 13 other issues) as proposed by the Department of Education:

Those opposing the regulations claim that putting regulations on for-profit college programs will prevent students from receiving federal funds, and therefore prevent certain sects of people from the right to better job opportunities (i.e. a degree).  However, those supporting the regulations state that the regulations will do the opposite by protecting students from fraudulent programs that leave college graduates unqualified and sacked with debt. This all has to do with the taxpayers money. How are federal funds being spent?

To me, it seems logical that anyone receiving government funds should face certain regulations. The government is not only giving money away in the forms of grants, but also offering federal loans: federal loans are not grants. To protect taxpayers, there should be certain requirements to receive federal grants. These requirements should be regulated. To protect students, college programs should be clean, efficient, and prepare the student for the workforce in a timely manner; this way, the student isn’t loaded down with thousands of dollars of debt with no way of procuring a job.

However, there is an aspect to the federal funding of colleges that is more ridiculous than all the politics involved with this single issue.

The Pell Grant. What a wonderful, wonderful thing. Pell Grants provide multitudes of students who normally would never have the opportunity to attend college to receive degrees that provide better jobs, better incomes, and better quality of living. Pell is a laudable effort to improve the socioeconomic status’ of low income students everywhere. However, there is one problem with Pell.

Under current guidelines, undergraduate students working toward their first-time Bachelor’s degree can receive the Pell grant for 16 full semesters as long as they meet the income and program requirements. This is EIGHT years of undergraduate college. Eight. I completed my bachelor’s in three and one-half years. Allowing students to receive federal funds for eight years to complete one degree is absolutely ridiculous.

If the government wants to cut the budget (in addition to protecting taxpayers and students), perhaps we should restrict Pell Grants to five years of funding, or perhaps even six for the struggling student. Students can receive up to $5,000 per semester with a Pell Grant.  If each student were receiving maximum funding and the government reduced the years of funding from eight to five (and for the sake of numbers, we are assuming each student receiving a grant continues schooling for eight years), this would be a savings of $30,000 per student. Considering that most colleges boast that the majority of enrolled students receive federal aid, we could imagine a reduction in the budget deficit. Or who knows. Maybe not.

A good article on gainful employment from the Huffington Post:

Info on Pell:


3 Responses to “Gainful Employment, Pell, Federal Regulations We Should Have, and Federal Regulations We Don’t”

  1. Mike February 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    In all due respect, I appreciate your perspective on reducing the amount of Pell Grant funding that is distributed every year, but I must disagree with your statement that allowing 16 semesters of Pell funding is ridiculous. I’m happy that you were privileged enough to attend school full-time and complete your degree in less than four years. Unfortunately, those who truly need Pell Grants (those who the program is intended to support) may not be fortunate enough to drop everything in their lives and attend school non-stop. Having worked in an urban environment with hundreds of adults seeking first time degrees, I can assure you eight years is not ridiculous. Many people must support a family, pay medical bills, provide shelter to their children, work two jobs, etc, etc… while going to college. Assuming these individuals must enroll as part-time students, you can see how your quick and easy four year program could easily become an incredible challenge, even in five or eight years. Don’t assume everyone comes to college with the same responsibilities as you did. I’ve met many individuals who are proud to have struggled through eight years of college for their degree, and they needed every penny of help they could get – all eight years – to make their dreams come true.

  2. Jaime VanEnkevort February 21, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    Mike, thank you for making that point. I did not think about students with families.

    However, I would like to mention that I did work full-time throughout my college career. I accepted a management position for two hotels, worked 50 hours/week, was on call 24/7, and took 20 credits. I’m not endorsing this sort of lifestyle; it was not easy or healthy. I was never home. I could imagine someone with a family being unable to keep that sort of schedule. The eight year allowance now makes more sense.

    I appreciate your perspective. Thanks for outlook.



  1. The Sweet, Sweet, Unrelenting Cowardice of Politics « Education Ordo Amoris - April 7, 2011

    […] in (are you ready for this?) – private universities! You can check out my article on Gainful Employment or get real with the New York […]

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