February 22, 2023
Some advocates are hopeful this list will shed light on college programs saddling students with unmanageable debt.
The Department of Education (ED) plans to create a list of “low-financial-value” college programs, but there is disagreement on how to put together that list.
ED asked the public for suggestions concerning how to create a list of these low-value programs. Essentially, the department wants to inform students of programs that aren’t providing them a solid return on investment (ROI) and may burden them with federal student debt if their degree or credential won’t help them pay it back.
Advocacy groups and organizations representing institutions began to flood ED’s inbox with suggestions in recent weeks.
Here are some takeaways from a BestColleges analysis of comments from seven organizations submitted to the department:
Some Question the Value of This List
Not all sides are convinced that such a list of low-financial-value programs is worth the department’s time.
Joint comments from the National Student Legal Defense Network and the Project on Predatory Student Lending make the case that ED’s time would be better spent holding these schools accountable, not just putting them on a list. Any such list of low-value programs would be overshadowed by the fact that Federal Student Aid (FSA) allows students enrolled in these programs to access federal financial aid.
“We have doubts, based on direct experience with student loan borrowers, that the publication of any institutional or programmatic ‘watch list’ could overcome the actual or perceived ‘seal of approval’ created by an institution’s participation in the federal student aid program,” the joint letter states.
The comments also point out that now-Undersecretary of Education James Kvaal signed off on a letter in 2019 essentially making the same argument. When Kvaal was president of the Institute for College Access and Success, he co-signed a letter that said:
“The disclosure of key data elements can inform student choices and help colleges improve, but no evidence to date supports information disclosures as a standalone strategy to improve students’ decision-making processes across the board.”
The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) oppose this list for a different reason.