Link: “Rule targets for-profit colleges over student debt”
The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration is cracking down on for-profit institutions and their seeming inability to translate education into access to the middle-class.
Or, rather: The Obama Administration has reached a breaking point with for-profit schools that use federal loan and grant money, only to produce graduates who are unable to ever pay back their student debt.
As the article notes, “for-profit colleges can receive up to 90 percent of their revenue from federal financial aid programs”–which, by virtue of being for-profit, means that the government is essentially fueling the success of these institutions through student loans. But, let’s be clear: the real victim here is not the government, but the millions of students who are left in crippling debt after being sold a bill of goods by both sides: take these loans, because education is the ticket to the middle class; take these courses, because this credential is the ticket to the middle class.
Hence, what’s at stake here, as usual, are two recurring themes in educational history and edu-policy: the meaning of educational credentials and the meaning of middle-class success.
Educational credentials are always a political topic, because the meaning of a degree is always in relation to the economic, social, and cultural forces of any given moment. Hence, the vitality of for-profit schools amid the Great Recession shouldn’t have surprised anybody: The seemingly-limitless discourse on the “new economy” and “new rules for new times” spawned an antagonistic relationship between the public and traditional modes of higher education. In other words: If what it takes to get employed is a college degree, then that degree is more useful if it can come cheaply and with a direct line between in-school training and required on-the-job skills. As we drag slowly out of economic crisis, the concern has shifted slightly. STEM is still fetishized, as are direct-line training programs, but there seems to be a greater awareness that educational credentials designed to work in a “new economy” only go so far when the structures of the “old economy” are still around.
As indicated by the proposed changes to loan-to-income repayment rates, this debate is also about the meaning of entering the middle class. That is, what is the meaning of being in the middle class if one is left nearly broke, for years on end, repaying the loans one took out to get a credential that one assumed would lead to a decent job and economic comfort?
Ideally, these reforms will lessen debt peonage, but yet, the question remains: If higher education is a key priority for the continued vitality of this nation, and if higher education is the key barrier for entering the middle class–however hazy that term may be–then why do the hurdles remain so high for those on the outside trying to get in?