School of Education News

UW-Madison’s Hillman tells his research is being misrepresented

September 21, 2018

A number of scholars and organizations are saying that research being cited in a new Education Department proposal to scrap a rule protecting students is being misrepresented, reports.

According to the report: “Multiple researchers and a non-profit organization say that the research cited in an Education Department proposal for eliminating an Obama-era rule to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges is misrepresented to incorrectly justify those plans. The Trump administration has been working to dismantle the gainful employment rule for months and, in July, delayed the rule to hold colleges and universities accountable when their programs’ graduates had debt over a certain share of their income. The rule would have held numerous for-profit colleges accountable, since they often leave students with a great deal of debt, and with lower incomes than they expected.”

UW-Madison’s Nicholas Hillman is among those telling that the Education Department is misrepresenting his work. reports: “The department referred to (Hillman’s) 2016 research, “Education Deserts: The Continued Significance of ‘Place’ in the Twenty-First Century,” which he co-authored with Taylor Weichman of the same university.

This section of the proposal reads, “The average first-time undergraduate student attending a two-year public institution enrolls at an institution within eight miles of his or her home. The distance increases to 18 miles for the average first-time undergraduate student enrolling at a four-year public institution. Accordingly, we believe that while it is important for a student to know that a program could result in higher debt, it is not appropriate to eliminate the option simply because a lower-cost program exists, albeit outside of the student’s reasonable travel distance.”

 “They are correct in saying students stay close to home for college and I think that point is extremely important and I’m glad they’re looking at that,” Hillman tells

He added, “But they say it’s not appropriate to eliminate basically a failing program simply because there is a lower cost option? That is a misinterpretation of my research findings. They later say that students should be able to select more expensive programs because of the convenience. That is also inconsistent with my research.”

Hillman is an associate professor with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, and is an affiliate of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE)

Hillman tells that, on average, the upward mobility for public institutions consistently outperforms for-profit colleges.

“Having an expensive [college] that delivers poor outcomes as your only option … these are people who need gainful employment the worst,” Hillman said. “The corollary would be if I only had one restaurant in town and I want to go out to dinner, but that restaurant consistently makes their patrons sick. I could be well-informed about that restaurant all day long, but eventually the regulators need to come in and clean that up. The regulators need to make sure that the place is healthy. You know, if my only option is, say, a for-profit that has abysmal outcomes and charges more in tuition, this is exactly what gainful employment is designed to protect me against.”

To learn much more about this topic, check out the entire report here.

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