WASHINGTON, D.C. | March 11, 2011 -
We are here this morning to examine burdensome regulations imposed on institutions of higher education and accrediting bodies by the Department of Education.
We can all agree today that the United States has the finest higher education system in the world, which draws students from around the globe. But we are also all aware of the strain federal regulations can place on schools. In this era of limited resources, these regulations can serve to distract schools from efficiently delivering services to their students. That means onerous mandates force institutions to dedicate scarce resources toward compliance instead of focusing on meeting student needs. At a time when we should be encouraging common sense education reforms, more regulatory hurdles serve only to undermine the strength of the nation’s education system.
In late 2010, the administration introduced regulations on 14 separate higher education issues. While many of these new regulations inject the federal government into areas that have historically been the responsibility of the states or institutions of higher education, two of them are particularly alarming.
The new state authorization regulation forces states to follow federal requirements when deciding whether to grant a college or university permission to operate within the state. Many institutions fear this is only the beginning of the federal government and states exercising more control over their colleges and universities. For schools providing distance education programs, this regulation could require them to obtain authorization in every state where an enrolled student resides to participate in the federal student aid programs. Even if a school has just one student from a state enrolled in an online program, the institution will still be required to go through the process of obtaining authorization in that state. Schools with more advanced online education opportunities could be forced to deal with this process in all fifty states.
Another worrisome regulation creates the first federal definition of a credit hour and requires specific criteria to be used when assessing an institution’s definition of a credit hour. School officials are concerned that this regulation will restrict their ability to determine the number of credit hours for each course, an inherently academic function. While the credit hour is important to the distribution of federal student assistance, institutions of higher education fear they will be required to check in with the government before creating courses and programs eligible for such funding.
To make matters worse, very little information exists on how these regulatory changes could affect students. The state authorization regulation could restrict a student’s ability to enroll in a distance education program if the school is not recognized as an accredited online institution in his or her state. The credit hour regulation also stands to restrict efficiency and productivity at an institution by limiting their ability to create innovative ways to educate students in shorter periods of time.
Many institutions of higher education have been left in the dark on how to proceed. In fact, we have just received a letter from the American Council on Education asking us to request a delay of one year of these regulations because of the confusion. Unless the department can provide some clarifying guidance before the July 1, 2011 deadline, schools, states, and accreditors will be left to wonder whether their inability to comply with the unclear regulations will jeopardize schools’ eligibility to receive federal financial aid. As such, a delay – or complete withdrawal actually – may be the appropriate action here.
These regulations constitute a federal overreach into academic affairs. Like many other burdensome government mandates, both reduce local control and create uncertainty in the higher education system. Escalated intervention by Washington bureaucrats has done little to fix the problems in our education system. Instead of more regulations, we need to support policies that streamline the government’s role in education and provide for more flexibility for states and education institutions.
We look forward to hearing your thoughts on federal regulations like these and gaining your perspective on what should be done in Washington to decrease their negative impact.