Predatory Colleges Find Friends in Congress (nytimes.com)
Assigning value to a college program based on its value in the economy is problematic for me in three ways: 1) it narrows the value of college down to economic value when in reality that value is much more complex and influenced by several other factors, 2) it takes a lot of the consumer-ish responsibility students need to have to make choices about where to go to college and what program to enroll in, and 3) colleges have very little control over how the economy values a set of skills.
This opinion piece refers to a Federal District Court judge in Washington who up held new Obama administration rules on Tuesday regarding the "gainful employment" rules, which "[deny] federal aid to programs that have historically burdened students with loans well beyond their capacity to repay." According to the article, "The rules were inspired by data showing that students in for-profit schools account for only about 12 percent of college enrollment, but nearly half of student loan defaults. Other data has shown that graduates of for-profit institutions are more likely than graduates of other institutions to carry debt of more than $40,000 when they leave school." However, according to InsideHigherEd, a U.S. Senate subcommittee passed a bill on Tuesday that would block most efforts to expand the federal government's role in higher education, including implementing a college rating system and defining gainful employment.
Although this sort of element has a few kinks to be worked out, it does do one thing that is absolutely crucial for higher education to start doing more of if we are to regain relevance and credence: talk to the employers who want to hire these graduates. If the federal government will respect what higher education is asking--which is to hold control of accreditation, accountability, and regulation--and is willing to allow higher ed the tools it needs to do these important cleaning tasks effectively, then higher education needs to have someone else to hold them accountable.
As in several other posts, concepts from Daniel Pink's Drive are useful to help us think about this matter. If the goal is measured objectively, as in numbers like tuition dollars or enrollment, the motivation to achieve the goal is extrinsic in nature, and we often suffer from tunnel vision about how to get to that goal. If the goal can't be measured so easily, such as improving one's quality of life or self-concept, the motivation is more intrinsic, and we have a much larger perspective from which to draw solutions. But the latter requires much more trust in the balance, which is why higher education and its accrediting bodies, whose goal is (usually) to educate, keeps running into conflict with numbers-oriented entities like for-profit colleges, whose goal is (usually) to make money.
If we want to attach a career to the value of a college education, then let's first expand the value of a career beyond the paycheck as well as the value of a college experience. Realizing that terms like "gainful" and "value" aren't so narrowly defined with help both sides with their respective causes.