Possible Setback for Program Integrity Rules

A bill that would repeal two Education Department program integrity rules — the federal definition of a credit hour and the requirement that colleges and universities be authorized in every state in which they operate — is now headed for a vote by the full House of Representatives.

The measure, H.R. 2117, the "Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act," is aimed at overturning some of the program integrity rules announced in October, which the House Republicans who sponsored the bill said they saw as a significant federal overreach into higher education administrative and curricular matters. The rules go into effect July 1.

When the program integrity rules were announced, the Education Department emphasized that they were aimed primarily at for-profit colleges and universities. But nonprofit institutions joined in criticizing the credit hour definition, saying it could interfere with a college’s right to determine its own curriculum. The rule would define a credit hour as an hour of lecture and two hours’ work outside class. Colleges could determine their own equivalent for other academic activities like internships or laboratory work, and for academic rather than federal purposes. At a meeting last week of the federal advisory committee on accreditation, accreditors and committee members said verifying that colleges comply with the rule could take thousands of hours of employees’ and accreditors’ time.

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