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Heavens to Betsy (Devos)

Is Rolling Back Gainful Employment the Right Thing to Do?

Betsy Devos is rolling back Gainful Employment. Is this good for students and grads or no? This could have gone on either side of the line for me. Let me explain.

Education is education is education. I don’t care if I’m learning how to fix a washing machine, be a teacher, a lawyer, or learn how to install lawn irrigation systems. It’s all education, and it all costs money.

I went the law school route, because at 21 I thought it was a great idea and I’d be rich! Ha! As I get older I realize that “rich” is relative, and you can be rich doing absolutely anything if you’re really good at it. Back to my point…

I grew up under the poverty line. I had blue collar parents and we qualified for the free lunch program among other welfare programs. I only found this out years later because my parents never used it, and prided themselves on that fact. Thanks to Bill Clinton, kids like me could borrow money out the wazzoo to go to school, and that’s what I did. I qualified for Pell, but it didn’t even come close to the cost of my entire education on any given year. My parents were considered poor, but not quite poor enough. And while I was responsible for my loans and costs, my ability to pay was based on my family’s income.

I graduated with over $100k in student loan debt. I share this story because it is the same story that many American young people experienced. You see, if the median household income in Kansas is $50k, that means half of the families in my state were making under that amount. So, my story is not rare at all.

When you have no concept of money or paying bills really, the choice of a profession at 18 is still lofty at best. I intended to work for SRS, help people, make the world a better place. My job prospects after undergrad were paying around $30-$35k. That just wasn’t going to work. So off to law school I go. It’s helping, just in a different way. Plus, I was over being broke!

When my first student loan payment came due, it was in the amount of $980 per month. WHAT?! I was bartending after college because, A LOT OF PEOPLE STILL HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WHEN THEY GRADUATE! That amount was incomprehensible to me.

My law school was not on the hook for making sure I was employed. No one was calling to see where I was working. Nothing. I just made it work.

Now, when we look at for-profits, the exact same issue occurs. With the exception that the school is 100% responsible for finding that student employment. If a lot people graduate and just bartend for a while, the school can lose all access to federal funds. This just doesn’t seem fair. Both schools use tax payer money to educate students. Students from both sets of schools graduate in debt. The difference is that wealthy families rarely send their children to trade schools and often pay cash at traditional schools, offsetting the amount of federal funds the school receives.

I believe both kinds of schools, traditional and for profit, should be responsible for helping students and alum succeed, or neither should be held responsible. Being trained to be a lawyer is the same as being trained to be an LPN or a Wind Turbine technician. Both cost money. Both require skilled training.

Now, would I got back all of those years and not incur the debt? Yes. Absolutely. I would have been much more creative about how to pay for school. But, I didn’t have that set of skills until I was much older and wiser. Plus, I relied on the marketing of the school and assumed I would be graduating and making 6 figures immediately. Haha! Um, no. That did not happen. And it didn’t happen for a large group of people that I graduated with.

My law school should have had the same employment disclosure requirements that any other school does. But in the same breath, the school shouldn’t be penalized if I get my JD and then decide I would rather be a stay at home mom, or if I have a bad attitude and no one wants to hire me, or if I got my degree and decided to work at Kwik Trip. That is not the school’s fault nor should it be.

So, did Betsy Devos to the right thing by rolling back Gainful Employment? In my opinion, It should apply to everyone or no one. Just like in grade school… if you didn’t bring enough gum for everyone, then you can’t have it either.

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