INSIDE HIGHER ED: Reminding States to Regulate

Career College Central Summary:

  • After years of delays spurred by concerns from states and colleges, a new federal requirement that colleges obtain authorization from regulators in each state in which they are physically located is finally due to take effect.
  • The U.S. Education Department on Friday issued a Dear Colleague letter reminding institutions and state regulators of the looming July 1 effective date for the so-called state authorization regulation for on-ground campuses (which is distinct from a parallel rule about online programs, which is in a holding pattern because of legal challenges).
  • The rule, which imposes requirements on states and college alike, is aimed at setting some minimum standards for how a state approves colleges operating within its borders. In addition to requiring institutions to have legal authorization from every state in which it physically operates a postsecondary program, the rule requires states to have a process for considering student complaints about a college, and sets out the conditions under which state regulators can use an institution’s accreditation or business licenses as a substitute for a more intensive approval process.
  • The regulation, originally drafted in 2010 to take effect in 2013, has been delayed twice amid colleges' complaints that the rule is confusing, particularly for independent nonprofit and for-profit institutions, unlike public colleges and universities that are almost automatically considered to be authorized because of their direct state ties.
  • In an interview Friday about the Dear Colleague letter, Education Department officials said they believed the delays in implementation gave most states and institutions time to work their way through any major problems with meeting the state authorization requirements. The government will review colleges' compliance with the state approval rule when it recertifies an institution's eligibility to award federal financial aid funds (a process that occurs every three to six years) or when a college triggers another federal review, such as when it seeks approval for a new program or undergoes a program review.
  • "To be eligible during this past year, an institution had to demonstrate that it was either compliant or working toward compliance — that it was along a pathway" toward meeting the regulation's requirements, said Jamienne S. Studley, a deputy under secretary of education. And states that didn't have a complaint system in place, she said, "had to show that they had it underway."

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