GOP takeover signals major changes for higher ed

New House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has supported for-profit colleges as officials lobby against ED's "gainful employment" rules.

Congressional Republicans who have long railed against increases in federal student aid and new regulations aimed at for-profit colleges will serve influential roles on key committees next year—a shift that could change the Obama administration’s approach to important higher-education issues.

Republicans will have a majority in the House of Representatives in 2011 for the first time since 2006, when Democrats secured a large majority in both Congressional chambers. Democrats will maintain a slim majority in the Senate next year.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has pushed for greater federal regulation of for-profit colleges—which include some of the largest online education programs in the country—after government investigations revealed shady recruitment practices.

The proposed “gainful employment” rules would force for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University to prove that their students are repaying education loans before the institutions take in billions in federal financial aid.

Republican lawmakers have sent open letters to Duncan asking the administration to scrap the “gainful employment” rules, and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the new House speaker when the next session of Congress convenes, has pushed for Congress to eliminate a rule that prohibits for-profit colleges from taking in more than 90 percent of tuition from federal financial aid programs.

The midterm elections could be a boon for advocates of for-profit colleges who have largely sided with Congressional Republicans during the drawn-out “gainful employment” rule making.

Harris Miller, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, said in a statement that the administration’s proposed regulations “single out a specific set of students and schools, rather than apply to all students across the board.”

“And that will harm only lower-income students and working adults,” Miller continued, “whose higher-education choices are already very limited.”

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