‘Breathing Room’ on State Authorization

The Education Department did not go nearly as far as college leaders would have liked in backing away from a new rule requiring colleges to get approval from every state in which they operate distance education programs. But in announcing Tuesday that, for the next three years, the agency would not meaningfully punish institutions that have shown "good faith" efforts to get such approval, the federal government sought to provide some additional latitude, its officials say.

"This should give breathing room to institutions and states to work together" to come into compliance with the new regulations, James Kvaal, deputy under secretary of education, said in a conference call with reporters. Asked if he hoped the announcement would satisfy the objections of college leaders, Kvaal said he hoped so. Asked if he had an "expectation" that it would do so, he responded: "Desire."

It is likely to remain an unfulfilled desire, to judge from the early reactions of higher education leaders. Officials at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which sued the Education Department in January to stop enforcement of the rule on state authorization and two other regulations issued in October to ensure the integrity of federal financial aid programs, declined to comment, citing the litigation. Given their aggressive opposition to the department’s regulatory efforts, however, this is unlikely to satisfy them.

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