For-Profit Schools Prey on the Most Vulnerable Women in America, and Betsy DeVos Is Okay with That

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to roll back regulations that protect students from for-profit institutions who specifically target single mothers, low-income women and women of color.
One Step Forward
Back in 2009, even though for-profit schools only accounted for 12 percent of postsecondary enrollments, they were responsible for 44 percent of federal student loan defaults. These defaults meant that American taxpayers had to pay off these loans while publicly traded for-profit schools made higher and higher earnings for their shareholders. Furthermore, many students were finding that if they graduated, their degrees were meaningless in the job market and they could not obtain a job in the field that the school had promised they could. This left students with an insurmountable amount of debt without anything to show for it.
Fortunately, in 2010, the Obama Administration put in place some regulations and safeguards to protect students from falling victim to the for-profit school fallacy. The Gainful Employment Regulations mandated postsecondary institutions disclose to potential students the costs of the program, graduation rates, and the average amount of debt that students accrue through the school.
Additionally, programs found to not lead to gainful employment, meaning, that on average, students who entered the program left with little to no increase in income, and massive amounts of debt, would no longer be eligible to receive taxpayer-funded federal student aid. The Gainful Employment Regulation meant that low-performing institutions, particularly for-profit institutions, could no longer deceive potential students and profit off federal student aid programs.
Two Steps Back
In June of 2017, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos decided to postpone the Gainful Employment Regulations in order to “allow additional time for institutions to comply with overly burdensome Gainful Employment regulations.” Additionally, Secretary DeVos has halted the student loan forgiveness program that forgave federal student debt in cases of fraud. While DeVos has not made a permanent decision on either of these programs, the prospects are not good. There is a high probability that The Department of Education under DeVos will pursue a laissez-faire strategy when dealing with for-profit institutions which in turn will protect these multi-million dollar companies over students, many of whom are women, people of color, and single parents.
Easy Prey
Women make up as much as 76 percent of for-profit institution enrollments, compared to 57 percent in not-for-profit institutions. People of color are also overrepresented in for-profit institutions, with 27 percent being Black compared to 13 percent in nonprofit institutions. Similarly, while Hispanic students only make up 19 percent of undergraduates at nonprofit institutions, they are enrolled at a higher rate in for-profit institutions at 29 percent. Furthermore, students who attend for-profit institutions are more likely to be older, be low-income, and have children.
The problem is not the students; diversity in higher education is great, and inevitable. The problem is that the kind of education that for-profit institutions offer these students often does more harm than good. These students are often individuals who want to better their lives and move up socially and economically, and for-profit schools cash in on the narrative that getting a degree, any degree, will do just that. Often times what makes for-profit institutions seem like a good choice for these students is that it’s incredibly convenient.
Many for-profit institutions offer programs for non-traditional students that their community college or a 4-year institution cannot provide, such as online classes and flexible scheduling, which is crucial, particularly for working women who have families. Many for-profit institutions over promise and under deliver. They often promise prospective students that the degree will take a short amount of time and that the debt that they accrue will easily be paid off with their new career.
What these institutions fail to mention is that only 23 percent of their students graduate, compared to public nonprofit institutions where 59 percent of students graduate. These institutions also don’t mention that in 2012, the average student at a for-profit school left with a median debt of $32,700 compared to students who went to nonprofit institutions who left with $24,600 in debt. This, paired with the fact that most students don’t graduate from for-profit institutions and that the ones who do obtain a degree have relatively low job prospects, means that these schools are not doing at all what higher education has promised so many underserved Americans.
Going Forward
The face of higher education is changing, students are attending college later, and classrooms are more diverse than ever. That’s why it is imperative that nonprofit schools, particularly public universities and community colleges adapt to the changing face of higher Ed. These institutions need to offer more support for students navigating the bureaucracy of signing up for school, child care options for student parents, and more flexible scheduling for students who have to work, care for their families, and get an education.
Contrary to what Secretary Betsy DeVos may believe, all schools are not created equal. We owe it to these students, many of whom have already been let down by their K-12 school, to provide them with a quality education that won’t leave them in massive amounts of debt with little hope for the future.
We need the Gainful Employment Regulation to protect students from low-performing for-profit institutions who target the most vulnerable students. The Gainful Employment Regulation raises the standards for all institutions by making them transparent so that students are better able to choose the school that is right for them.
Speak Out Against Predatory For-Profits
Let Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education know that we need the Gainful Employment Regulation in order to protect America’s most vulnerable students from predatory and low-performing for-profit institutions.
You can show your support for Gainful Employment Regulation by submitting a public comment to By law, the Department must take into account comments submitted by the November 13 deadline before they issue new regulations. To submit a comment, visit, click “Comment Now!” on any of the four public comment periods and copy/paste the message below in the comment field.
You can also email Betsy DeVos and the Office of the Secretary of Ed. Here is a sample message that you may find useful.
Dear Secretary DeVos/ Office of Secretary of Education,
I am writing to express my support for the Gainful Employment Regulations instated by the previous administration, and to urge you to continue to collect information to administer the program, including cohort default rates and debt-to-earnings ratios for graduates. These regulations are imperative to ensuring that quality higher education is transparent and accessible to all students. Higher education institutions need to be held accountable to their students and for too long; many low-performing for-profit schools have targeted vulnerable Americans for profit.
I agree that higher education should be available to everyone who chooses to pursue it; however, we must differentiate schools who improve the lives of their students from schools that seem to leave students worse off than they were before. Postsecondary education is an important building block to a better life and individuals, from all backgrounds, deserve to have access to it. The Gainful Employment Regulation protects students from institutions who would rather make a profit than prepare students for employment.
I urge the Department of Education to continue to enforce the Gainful Employment Regulations because too many students have already been negatively affected by low-performing for-profit schools. Many students never graduate from these schools. And the few that do leave with an insurmountable amount of debt and very little job prospects. These for-profit institutions have historically targeted the most vulnerable Americans such as veterans, low-income individuals, student parents, and people of color. We cannot allow companies to take advantage of vulnerable students using taxpayer funds and the Gainful Employment Regulations are a step towards ensuring that those who seek out higher education are receiving a quality education that will better their lives and society as a whole.
Please take the time to consider how important the Gainful Employment Regulation is to students across the country and continue to fully enforce it.
Thank you,
Your Name