President-elect Trump has said that his administration will be focused on three very important words: Jobs, jobs, jobs.
He has outlined a bold agenda to achieve 4 percent economic growth in America, and much of that agenda involves undoing the Obama administration’s disastrous regulations that get in the way of job creation.
But job creation is only half the challenge. Americans must have the skills necessary to do the jobs that are created under this new, more dynamic economy.
Meeting this goal will also require undoing the harmful actions of the Obama administration, specifically the devastating impact his Department of Education is having on career education in America.
Career education is distinct from the four-year Bachelor of Arts and Science programs you might think of as higher education. Career education certificates and associate degrees typically take 1 or 2 years, respectively, and rather than providing a broad-based education, they are specifically tailored to prepare students for specific jobs.
The demand for these programs is growing. Since 2003, per the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of certificate degrees awarded has increased by 40.9 percent and the number of associates degrees awarded has increased by 50.8 percent. This is a much faster rate of increase than the growth in Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees of 33 percent.
Many of these programs are offered at community colleges, but private sector career schools play a vital role as well. In 2014, more than one-third of certificates and almost one-sixth of associate degrees in America were awarded by private sector career colleges.
In fact, these numbers understate how critical private sector schools are to certain industries.
Health care is a prime example. According to a recent analysis of Department of Education data by Career Education Colleges and Universities, 78 percent of vocational/practical nurses and nursing assistants, 74 percent of medical assistants, 43 percent of ultrasound technicians, and 39 percent of surgical technologists are educated at private sector colleges and universities.
The fields of computer networking, electrical and electronic engineering, heating and ventilation installation and airplane and auto repair also disproportionately rely on private sector career schools to provide workers with the skills necessary to fill critical jobs.
Disgracefully, despite the vital nature of private sector career education to the American economy, the Obama administration has launched an ideologically motivated assault on private sector schools.
Over the past four years, the Department of Education forced almost 900 private sector campuses into closure, throwing tens of thousands of students out on the street – many of them low-income adults, single parents and African-Americans and Latinos.
In just the past thirty days – in a final effort to cause as much damage to private sector schools before President-elect Trump takes office – the Obama Department of Education has revoked the accreditation status of ACICS – a national accreditor which certifies many private sector career schools in America, and deliberately done to immediately put almost over 700 schools in serious jeopardy.
Just as President-elect Trump has made it clear that he intends to undo many of the Obama administration’s disastrous regulations that hurt job creation, his administration should swiftly announce it will take steps to undo the damage President Obama has done to career education in America.
First, the Trump administration should announce that it will give ACICS 12 months to correct the deficiencies which the Obama administration used as an excuse to try and shut them down. This is a standard grace period that the Department of Education normally gives after notifying an accreditor that it is not meeting certain standards. The only reason ACICS was not given this same courtesy is because the Obama administration viewed them as a vehicle through which they could attack private sector schools.
In addition, the Trump administration should announce that it intends to make the disastrous Gainful Employment Rule open for review. This rule, which I have written about before, removes programs from eligibility for federally backed student loans if the earnings of its graduates do not meet an arbitrary debt/earnings threshold in three years.
As predicted by many, the rule is hurting students rather than helping them. For instance, students in lower wage states are having their opportunities for career advancement eliminated simply due to differences in the cost of living. The rule also doesn’t appreciate that many fields – such as the culinary arts and design programs – require a period of apprenticeship, which means that graduates will not necessarily realize the real value of their degrees in just three years.
The Trump administration should also announce that two rules which have not yet gone into effect – the Borrower Defense to Repayment (projected to cost over $16 billion over ten years) and the State Authorization Rule – will be immediately withdrawn. Instead, Congress and the Trump administration should work together to craft better solutions when they reauthorize the Higher Education Act later this year.
There is clear precedent for these actions provided by none other than President Obama himself.
In 2009, his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel sent directives to all departments and agencies instructing them not only to withdraw all rules which were not yet implemented, but also to act to stop “rules which raise substantial questions of law or policy.” The biased rulemaking and regulatory enforcement of the Department of Education against private sector schools certainly rises to this standard.
President-elect Trump can show that he is indeed focused on jobs and send a signal now that the assault on career education will come to an end in his administration. Only then will Americans have access to the vital skills education they need to get good jobs in the 21st century.