Did We Create a Monster?

Does the federal government need to regulate enrollment in Women's Studies programs based on how their graduates fare in the job market? What about Chinese Literature? Religious Studies? Last week's announcement of new rules to bear down on career colleges like the University of Phoenix, which offer degrees in programs like Health Administration and Criminal Justice Administration, weren't designed to force those questions. These programs come under a different section in the Higher Education Act, excluding them from regulations for how much money their graduates make. But the new rules -- the gainful employment rules, as they're called -- could push federal regulators to start peering under the hood of more traditional colleges majors, [according to reporting by](http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/06/13/explaining_the_true_signif...) *Inside Higher Ed*.

The issue is that the new regulations create the regulatory structure and a political vacuum ripe for more regulations. The rules, which penalize career colleges whose students cannot repay their loans, inaugurate what Kevin Carey, policy director for the Think Tank Education Sector, calls in the article a "new era of widely available data about how much college graduates earn and what kind of jobs they take." He goes on to describe how, now that the beast is built, it will be easier for government to expand into other areas of education regulation. Once government policymakers can wield this data, it is only a matter of time before calls to clamp down on and curb federal spending throughout higher ed are heard.

Liberals may have heralded regulations of vocational programs, but it's hard to see how this one will play out in a way they'll like. It's not outside the realm of possibility that this could become the impetus for calling for "cutting wasteful spending" on student enrollment in liberals studies programs which might not have the best job placement rates but whose graduates receive comparable aid to graduates of any other major at the school. And with the value of a college degree already in question there's certainly room for that attack line. In many ways the case has already been made. During the for-profit college debate, many [Conservatives](http://www.nationalreview.com/agenda/260425/matthew-yglesias-underlying-...) already called for as much. And the GOP has already called for slashing Pell Grants. According to AEI Fellow Andrew P. Kelly in a* Chronicle of Higher Education* article published on the same topic today, the new gainful employment rule "could prove to be the proverbial camel's nose under the tent flap that accountability proponents have been looking for."