Doing college ‘homework’ is crucial

Published Sep 6, 2018 at 4:00pm

Students need to do homework before choosing a college, and a field of study

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to help students pick a college by providing information on employment outcomes, student debt and a grade card comparing institutions.

For-profit colleges are getting a break from rules that were established during the last weeks of President Obama’s administration. Funding was cut off from career-focused colleges if the student debt incurred by those who attended was too high. Federal financial assistance also was withheld if a student’s study would not lead to “gainful employment in a recognized occupation.”

These rule changes demonstrate the dilemma now facing millions of Americans.

Education has long been seen as a well-defined path toward prosperity and career advancement.

In the years immediately after World War II, millions of military veterans came home and accessed the GI Bill to get postsecondary schooling. For most, college led to better jobs with better salaries.

In each decade since then, growth of the middle class has swelled the ranks of people seeking degrees or career training. For-profit schools sprung up to offer training, often in specialized professions.

Students were repaid for their time and tuition fees with the likelihood of higher lifetime earnings.

But as costs rose and job markets changed, more and more students found themselves with a nightmare of debt, rather than a dream job.

Certificates or specialized degrees from some schools did not translate into job skills that were in demand. A few schools faced lawsuits accusing them of charging high fees that yielded little in the way of employment opportunities.

Education Department data from late 2016 showed that students from about 800 schools had very high debt and low job placement. Student debt in the United States now stands at $1.4 trillion.

DeVos wants to see whether the marketplace can handle the problem, instead of having the federal government police the schools.

For-profit schools are once more eligible for federal student aid. The Education Department requires that colleges post likely earnings and debt data on their websites. A revamped College Scorecard also can be reviewed on the agency’s website.

So what’s the lesson?

Americans still see education as a good thing. They also want value for the time and money they invest in college.

Prospective students who do their homework before signing up for classes will greatly improve their chances of success.