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Number 16, June 13, 2011

Higher Education Subcommittee Chair Introduces Bill to Repeal Credit Hour and State Authorization Regulations

On June 3, 2011 Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, introduced a bill to repeal new regulations establishing a federal definition of credit hour and creating new rules governing state authorization. The bill - H.R. 2117 - is cosponsored by Congressman John Kline (R-Minnesota), Chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The legislation includes language that prohibits USDE from issuing, now or in the future, any regulation that defines credit hour.

Higher education associations and accrediting organizations sent a community letter to Congresswoman Foxx on June 10, thanking her for introducing the bill and noting, "We are pleased to offer our support for H.R. 2117, and we look forward to assisting you in your efforts to move this important legislation forward."

Previously, 68 higher education associations and accrediting organizations, including CHEA, asked for assistance from Congress in blocking implementation of new credit hour and state authorization regulations. Letters were sent on April 26, 2011 to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee. A similar request to rescind these new regulations was made directly to USDE in letters addressing the credit hour and state authorization rules (see Federal Update #15).

The Education and Workforce Committee has scheduled a full committee markup of H.R. 2117 on June 15, 2011 to move this legislation forward as expeditiously as possible.

Because of the importance of blocking these onerous state authorization and credit hour regulations, CHEA urges member colleges and universities, as well as recognized accrediting organizations, to call their members of Congress today and ask them to cosponsor H.R. 2117 to prevent inappropriate government interference in academic issues.

National Advisory Committee on Institutional quality and integrity meets to consider accreditation-related issues

The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), the U.S. Department of Education's (USDE) advisory body on recognition of accrediting organizations, met in Alexandria, Virginia on June 8-10, 2011. The three-day meeting included the review of a number of organizations seeking renewal of recognition, as well as discussion and public comments on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) likely to get underway in 2013.

During the course of the meeting, NACIQI followed staff recommendations regarding the accrediting organizations that were reviewed. Eight of the ten accrediting organizations are required to file reports with NACIQI in 12 months. The other two organizations were recognized for five years.

The meeting then focused on three broad accreditation-related issues: 1) Regulatory Burden and Data Needs (the regulatory burden and costs of accreditation to institutions, students and taxpayers and the data gathering and reporting required on the part of institutions and accrediting organizations),  2) "The Triad" (federal, state and accreditor entities and their roles, responsibilities and capacities) and 3) Accreditor Scope, Alignment and Accountability. Judith Eaton, President of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), was asked to serve as a speaker and resource on the issues of accreditor scope, alignment and accountability. (Click here for a full meeting agenda and listing of individuals who spoke at the meeting.) Additionally, USDE received written comments from a number of colleges and universities and higher education organizations.

In her testimony, Eaton noted "Accreditation is not broken. There is a lack of alignment between current expectations of accreditation and its traditional role." Eaton stressed the importance of affirming the value of key characteristics of higher education and accreditation such as institutional autonomy, peer review, academic freedom and institutional academic leadership. She also stated, "Accreditors and institutions can pursue key changes in operation such as agreeing to provide additional information about institutional performance, addressing institutional comparisons and offering more information about accreditation operations and the reasons associated with decisions about accredited status."

NACIQI began this work on reauthorization in response to a request from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in December 2010. NACIQI held a two-day meeting on February 3-4, 2011 to discuss "what is working (and not working) in the current system of recognition, accreditation, and student eligibility" (see Federal Update #14).

Also at the June 8-10 meeting, Jamienne Studley, President and CEO, Public Advocates, Inc., was elected to serve as NACIQI's new chair. She replaces Cameron Staples (who will remain on the Committee) as chair. Staples recently was named chief executive officer of the New England Association of Colleges and Schools, effective July 1, 2011.

SENATE HEARING ON FOR-PROFIT HIGHER EDUCATION HELD WITHOUT PARTICIPATION OF REPUBLICAN COMMITTEE MEMBERS

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, convened a June 7, 2011 hearing titled "Drowning in Debt: Financial Outcomes of Students at For-Profit Colleges." Witnesses at the hearing included Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter. (Click here for witnesses and testimony.) The hearing was the latest in a series of hearings focusing on for-profit higher education held by the Committee.

Prior to the hearing, on May 31, 2011, Ranking Committee Member Michael Enzi (R-Wyoming) sent a letter to Senator Harkin to inform him that Republican members of the Committee would not participate in the hearing. The letter noted that these Committee members "are troubled by statements from the Majority staff suggesting that the continuation of this investigation is motivated in part by a desire to embarrass the institutions you were unable to persuade to participate in the previous hearings." Senator Enzi's letter reiterated concerns raised in a letter (sent by Committee Republicans to Senator Harkin on April 13, 2011), which urged that the Majority "work with us to find constructive solutions to the problems faced by all institutions of higher education."

USDE Publishes final gainful Employment Regulations, Issues "Dear Colleague" Letters on State Authorization and Gainful Employment

USDE has published two sets of final regulations covering gainful employment, as part of a larger rulemaking on program integrity and student aid. Both sets of regulations were proposed on June 18, 2010. The first set of regulations - addressing additional program reporting requirements but not eligibility for student aid - was finalized on October 29, 2010. These regulations go into effect on July 1, 2011. The second and more controversial set of regulations - to establish measures for determining whether certain postsecondary education programs lead to gainful employment in recognized occupations and the conditions under which these programs remain eligible for federal financial assistance - was finalized on June 2, 2011 and goes into effect on July 1, 2012.

USDE issued a "Dear Colleague" letter on April 20, 2011 that provides guidance on the new program reporting requirements contained in the first set of gainful employment regulations, noting that these new requirements apply to public and nonprofit institutions as well as for-profit colleges and universities. USDE defines "all non-degree educational programs offered by public and nonprofit institutions and virtually all programs - degree and non-degree - offered by proprietary institutions" as gainful employment programs and notes that even public or nonprofit institutions that predominantly offer degrees are likely to have one or more gainful employment programs.

The second set of gainful employment regulations generated considerable comment from the public and Capitol Hill. USDE received more than 90,000 written comments on the proposed rule, which also generated a letter from 118 House Democrats and Republicans to President Obama asking that USDE "completely withdraw this regulation." The final rules have changed significantly since the proposed regulations were released.

Regarding institutional eligibility for student aid, USDE stated "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." Under this rule, no program will lose eligibility until 2015. The regulations go into effect on July 1, 2012.

Also on April 20, 2011, USDE issued a "Dear Colleague" letter to provide guidance on the new state authorization provisions in the context of distance learning. (State authorization was also a component of the program integrity and student aid regulations proposed by USDE on June 18, 2010 and finalized on October 29, 2010.) The letter, as amended on May 6, notes "Under the state authorization regulations, a student that is enrolled in an educational program offered by an institution cannot use Title IV, HEA program funds for that program if the institution the student is attending does not have state authorization in the State in which the student is located while receiving instruction [as opposed to 'in the State in which the student resides' in the original letter]." The letter also states that USDE will not initiate any action against distance education activities before July 1, 2014 "so long as the institution is making good faith efforts to identify and obtain necessary state authorization before that date."

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The Federal Update informs CHEA members and interested parties on federal policy developments related to self-regulation and peer review. Please direct any inquiries or comments to Jan Friis, CHEA Vice President for Government Affairs, at friis@chea.org or at (202) 955-6126.

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