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Biden Administration Takes Aim at Low Financial Value Programs

As it has hinted at in the recent past, the Biden Administration has released a Request for Information (RFI) soliciting public commentary and assistance on low financial value programs at post-secondary institutions. In other words, the Administration wants to identify programs that may not allow graduates to earn a living wage.

This hints at the revival of the Obama-era “gainful employment” rules, which used debt-to-income ratios to determine an institution’s ability to offer federal financial aid. The rule caused several for-profit education providers to cease operations after they failed the gainful employment tests.

Depending upon how the Biden administration implements low financial value tests, the rule may have a greater impact on community college programs. Chronically low post-graduation salaries could come back to haunt community college administrators who failed to upgrade and update their programs over time.

Hundreds of thousands of would-have-been community college students have already turned away from two-year institutions due to the low pay that comes with most community college degrees. When the new rules go into effect, schools will no longer be able to issue federal financial aid for programs that violate the low financial value rule.

It is unfortunate that there is no incentive (other than financial ruin) to motivate community college administrators to develop and offer high quality, high-value degree programs that enable students to earn a living wage following graduation. Neither improving the economic vitality of the community college district, nor the exorbitant salaries of a phalanx of middling executives are enough to inspire the creation of high-value degree programs and the elimination of those that can’t carry water.

Identify low financial value programs and eliminate them

I would ask why this isn’t simply an expectation of the leadership of a community college, but in WCC’s case, this magnificent failure traces directly back to the Board of Trustees. Lack of authentic oversight and failure to establish minimum programmatic standards result in low-financial value programs. (They’re much easier to produce than programs that lead to high-wage, high-demand jobs.)

In early models of the new gainful employment rules, only about 70% of programs at publicly funded institutions pass muster. Here are a few questions to consider: if the new low financial value rules were to trash 30% of WCC’s current course catalog, what would replace these programs? How long would it take to replace them? What would it cost to develop new curriculum? Most importantly, why isn’t someone at WCC working on this right now?

Photo Credit: Office of the Federal Register, via Flickr