Higher education needs more accountability, and a promising approach was a set of federal regulations called gainful employment, which sought to identify and terminate federal financial aid for college programs that left students with excessive student loan debt relative to their earnings after graduating. Introduced in 2011 and 2014, the regulations were rescinded in 2019. The Biden administration is considering reimposing gainful employment. If they do so, they should build upon two improvements gainful employment pioneered (the focus on program level rather than institution level evaluation, and the inclusion of students’ post-graduation earnings as an outcome metric), while avoiding the fatal mistake of the regulations (selective rather than universal application of accountability).
- The gainful employment regulations, in place from 2014 to 2019, identified and sanctioned college programs that left students with excessive student loan debt relative to their earnings after graduating.
- New approaches to higher education accountability can build on our experience with gainful employment by replicating gainful employment’s successful approaches and avoiding repeating its fatal mistake.
- One improvement that gainful employment pioneered that should be replicated is the focus on program level rather than institution level accountability.
- The second improvement that should be replicated is holding colleges accountable for students’ post-graduation earnings.
- The fatal mistake gainful employment made, and that policymakers should avoid repeating, is selectively applying accountability—excluding most of higher education from accountability.