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Gainful employment rule does more harm than good for technical training

Dick Harrell
OPINION: Federal rule to hold tuition down at private tech and vocational schools will diminish opportunities for students. Pictured: Construction workers clean up at a new office building taking shape near International Airport Road and C Street. Erik Hill

Career and technical education is a vital part of the work force development effort to train a qualified work force to meet the demands of business and industry. As an administrator of a public career and technical school for the past 16 years and a military veteran with 23 years of service, I can attest to the fact that public and private providers of career and technical education programs share the same goal: to prepare their students to work in a chosen vocation by providing them with the knowledge, skills and abilities identified by business and industry to obtain employment and thrive in the work force.

Graduates of vocational training programs have successfully demonstrated the competencies of their industry and are in most cases “work ready” to an employer on day one. Veterans transitioning to civilian life, as well as millions of other Americans, need opportunities and choices to access training they might need to be competitive in today’s job market. Public institutions alone cannot meet that need. Private providers of career and technical training are a needed option to serve our veterans and other underserved individuals. The Gainful Employment Regulation unfairly targets private training providers and will put many out of business at a time when the need for technical training is increasing.

The need for career and technical training has never been greater. Both public and private training providers are needed to meet the demand. Each has its niche and role to fill. While public vocational schools are typically less expensive to the students because they are subsidized by public money, they are slow to react to emerging needs, programs are subject to the whims and decisions of politicians and bureaucrats, and there are not enough to meet demand. Private schools tend to be smaller, target the needs of the community and employers they serve, and can respond quickly and effectively to the market. Yes, private schools generally are more expensive to the student than public schools, not because private schools are more expensive to operate but because private schools do not have the advantage of a third to half of their operating cost paid for with public funding. This is more evident in career and technical training programs due to the high cost of specialized training equipment and smaller class sizes.

The U.S. Department of Education plays the singular role of approving accreditation of all public and privately operated schools as a precondition to allow students to receive federal financial aid loans and grants. Accreditation assures the public that the training institution meets rigorous standards of program quality and sound business practices. The Department of Education does not need to further protect the public by regulating tuition rates for public or private schools, which would be the outcome of the Gainful Employment Regulation.

Let free-market principles regulate the marketplace, not additional government regulations. The Gainful Employment Regulation would set arbitrary program cost levels under the guise of reducing the cost of training and thereby reducing accumulated student debt.  However, this regulation unfairly targets private training providers to a point that they will no longer be able to afford to operate and, therefore, will eliminate private competition to publicly funded training institutions. Setting tuition rates for public or private training schools or creating unattainable student aid restrictions only for private career schools has never been the role of the Department of Education or the federal government, and the Gainful Employment Regulation opens the door to government intrusion into the public as well as private marketplace.

Dick Harrell is deputy director of AVTEC.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.