The Spectacle Blog

“Gainful Employment” Endangers African American Students’ Educations

By on 2.18.11 | 5:38PM

Over the past several years, the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce has worked to support and strengthen businesses in the African American community.  A key part of that effort has been cultivating tomorrow's talent by ensuring that young people get the 21st Century education and training that businesses require of their employees. This is a key measure in our Youth Ambassador Program.  

But these efforts are now in danger as a result of a proposal being floated by the Obama Administration that will in all likelihood make it more difficult for African American students to enroll in the universities that specialize in vocational training.  

Specifically, the administration is advancing an initiative called "gainful employment" that would require that a new, arbitrary debt-to-income ratio test be applied only to degree programs at career colleges and universities as a condition of theirstudents' eligibility for Federal loans. 

The initiative would not apply to other sectors of higher education. Career schools play a seminal role in the education of minority students, and they would be disproportionately impacted if the "gainful employment" proposal becomes official policy.   

In 2008-09, over six times as many minority students graduated with degrees or certificates from career colleges (236,228) as graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (37,229). In fact, 36 percent of degrees conferred at career colleges and universities were awarded to minorities, compared to 26 percent at public and 22 percent at private, not-for-profit institutions. In addition, 43 percent of the approximately 3.2 million students in America who attend career schools are minority students, and nearly half are first-generation college students.

Removing federal financial support for students attending career colleges and universities will significantly curtail educational options for African American students. Compounding the situation, the "gainful employment" rule will hurt the quality of the labor pool available to America's businesses given the role these schools play in training tomorrow's workers. It is important to understand that minority-owned businesses are a critical growth segment of our economy.  

If this proposal is adopted, it will impede the ability of thousands of minority and low-income students to earn a degree of their choosing and to fulfill dreams of professional success. If these students are unable to fulfill their dreams, there will not be a new generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders to drive our economy to greater vitality.  

We are in complete agreement with the leadership at the National Black Chamber of Commerce. We agree that the "gainful employment" rule would cease Federal student loans for those matriculating through for profit colleges. This would have a terrible impact on our future workforce. We now find that the main instigators of this proposal are the Wall Street short sellers. One of the short sellers even gave a speech entitled "Sub-prime goes to College" revealing how they are attempting to manipulate the U.S. Department of Education. 

President Obama has called for a renewed investment in higher education to meet a new goal: five million more college graduates by 2020. We know the value of a strong educational foundation and know that access to a broad array of educational choices is consistent withrealizing this critically important goal.  

The "gainful employment" proposal would limit the educational options available to students, making it harder for them to get the tools they will need to flourish in the workforce.  

Ruben Hopkins is the President/CEO of the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc.

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