The U.S. Education Department recently unveiled some rather stunning proposed new regulations. With the publication of the draft rules, the Obama administration’s goal of putting private-sector colleges and universities on an extremely short government leash became crystal clear.

The regulations, if finalized, will severely limit the ability of students who choose to attend those schools – which are run as businesses – to obtain federal student loans. Without student loans, students won’t be able to enroll. Without enrollees, the schools themselves will contract or even fold.

But while the proposed regulation is bold, the question of why the Department is taking such extreme action remained unclear.

Many, including myself in this April column, have wondered if department officials are revealing their own elitism, their true bias against schools that emphasize vocational education and cater to working-class adults.

After all, for-profit colleges and universities don’t look much like the elite schools that these officials attended when they were in their late teens and early 20s. Private-sector schools are filled with older students and more minorities than any other group of public or non-profit institutions. Most are seeking a career-focused degree, something that will help them advance beyond the blue-collar jobs they have held since high school. All of this is foreign ground for the more privileged Obama appointees.

On August 2, the elitism theory gained an interesting piece of evidence. During the question-and-answer period of a speech at the New America Foundation, Education Department Deputy Undersecretary (and former White House advisor) James Kvaal talked about the data that was used to justify the crackdown on student loans for a certain class of students. Kvaal revealed that, to show how unable these students allegedly are to re-pay their government loans, his Department used graduate income data from the state of Missouri.


A national, sweeping regulation that is so big that it included a 70-page analysis of what its impact will be and 80 pages rationalizing its necessity was developed based on data from one state?

A regulation that will effectively deny educational opportunity to tens of thousands of working Americans in all 50 states is justified by data from Missouri alone?

This more than smacks of a rush-to-judgment and a rush-to-over-regulate. It’s the equivalent of justifying national financial industry overhaul or national health-care reform on data from one state or municipality. It’s lazy at best, arrogant at worst.

To build this type of high-impact public policy on such a weak foundation indicates an approach that is ideological, not based on facts or evidence. Specifically, it makes Obama appointees look like old-school snobs who don’t think working-class people are good investments when it comes to higher education.

The regulations’ authors are starting to look and quack like elite ducks. If the bias of privilege is, in fact, at the heart of this massive regulatory move that amounts to near-nationalization of private-sector schools, the ducks will be guilty of nothing less than an abuse of power. I sincerely hope that is not the case, but other reasons are getting harder to identify and believe.

Jean Card is a writer. She has served as a political appointee at the Departments of Labor, Treasury and Justice. 

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