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Recent Federal Actions Highlight Need for State Oversight in Higher Education Arena

Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Whitney Barkley-Denney

Two recent federal actions underscore the challenges many college graduates have getting licensed in their career fields because of inadequate higher education regulations. The Career Ready Student Veterans Act, passed on December 13, prevents the Veterans Administration from approving programs for GI Bill dollars if graduates are ineligible for licensure in licensed programs.

And on Friday, the U.S. Department of Education released final rules on postsecondary distance education programs. The final rules require that colleges be authorized to operate in the states where their students live in order to participate in the Department's federal student aid programs, and require that certain postsecondary distance education programs must affirmatively certify that student borrowers who attend their programs are able to obtain licensure in their field of study, if licensure is required by their home state.

Whitney Barkley-Denney, a policy counsel with the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), released the following statement:

The recent final rules on distance education from the U.S. Department of Education combined with the passage of the Career Ready Student Veterans Act highlight a serious problem--too many for-profit post-secondary institutions continue to offer programs to students who cannot possibly obtain licensure after they graduate. All too often, the effect is drowning students in debt that not only does not lead to future opportunities, but also becomes a source of distress and financial insecurity.

These rules are sorely needed. In their report, "The GI Bill Pays for Degrees That Do Not Lead to a Job," (PDF) the veterans' advocacy organization Veterans Education Success found one in five programs approved for GI Bill funding were not properly accredited for licensure.

While these federal rules are a step in the right direction, they also underscore the need for states to increase their own role in higher education oversight to ensure that students do not end up with debt to a predatory for-profit school. States can increase protections of students in their states enrolled in online higher education, particularly for-profit colleges. In addition, states can prohibit schools from enrolling students into programs for which the school is not properly accredited and therefor students not eligible for licensure in their field. States such as Maryland have taken steps to prohibit such practices, and other states should do the same.

For more information, or to arrange an interview with a CRL spokesperson on this issue, please contact Carol Hammerstein at