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After more than a year of debate and political wrangling, the U.S. Department of Education announced its final rules for career colleges participating in the federal student aid program.  

If a for-profit schools fails to show “gainful employment” for three out of four years, it would be kicked out of the student loan program, meaning its students would not have access to government-backed loans and grants to pay for school.  

What constitutes “gainful employment,” you ask? Quoth the department press release:  

Under the regulations introduced today, a program would be considered to lead to gainful employment if it meets at least one of the following three metrics: at least 35 percent of former students are repaying their loans (defined as reducing the loan balance by at least $1); the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 30 percent of his or her discretionary income; or the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 12 percent of his or her total earnings.  

Some have deemed this a softer approach compared to previous proposed regs. Instead of one year of failure landing an institution in hot water, they know have three strikes.  

The department will start judging the schools based on their FY2012 performance. So the earliest a school could be hammered with ineligibility would be FY2015.  

For-profit schools — such as the University of Phoenix, Kaplan and ITT to name a few — have grown and profited significantly in recent years. Holding several hearings, some federal lawmakers have painted for-profit schools as a rip off for students. Advocates for the colleges say they provide opportunities for students overlooked by traditional schools and that bad for-profit schools are not the norm.  

Delaware’s own Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat, has focused on for profits targeting military personnel using their tuition assistance dollars.