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Committee Statements

Foxx Statement: Markup of H.R. 2117, the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The amendment in the nature of a substitute simply adds a short title to the bill, the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act.

We are here today to repeal two burdensome federal regulations that will negatively impact states and institutions of higher education across the country. The credit hour and state authorization regulations would allow the federal government to interfere in areas that have historically been the responsibility of institutions and states.

The state authorization regulation requires states to follow federal requirements when deciding whether to allow individual colleges and universities to operate within the state. Institutions providing online education programs could be required to obtain authorization in every state where enrolled students reside in order to participate in the federal student aid programs.

Consider a rural community where few education opportunities exist. For prospective students in these regions, online education programs can provide a wealth of course options that aren’t otherwise available. But what if a higher education institution decides obtaining an authorization to offer services in the student’s state isn’t worth the hassle? Or what if the state doesn’t have the personnel to handle the volume of requests from colleges and universities? Both of these scenarios showcase the potentially serious consequences that could result from the state authorization regulation.

The equally troubling credit hour regulation establishes a federally mandated definition of a credit hour. Many institutions offer a broad range of academic programs which serve different student populations. A mid-career professional who is enrolled in a distance learning program may spend more time reading outside the classroom than an on-campus student who attends class discussions each week. A standard definition of a credit hour could discriminate against some of these non-traditional educational programs.

According to testimony offered to the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training on March 11th by Blair Dowden, president of Huntington University in Indiana, “A credit hour is not only different from institution to institution, but is different even within an institution from program to program. A scientific laboratory class is different from practicing a musical instrument which is different from engaging in a business practicum.” Simply put, the definition of a credit hour cannot be micromanaged by a one-size-fits-all federal mandate – and any effort to do so could limit innovative programs and teaching methods.

Many institutions are concerned these regulations are just the beginning of greater federal overreach into academic affairs. The American Council of Education recently sent a letter on behalf of more than 60 higher education organizations detailing shared concerns about the state authorization and credit hour regulations. In the letter, the Council wrote, “Given the almost total lack of evidence of a problem in the context of credit hour or state authorization, we see no basis for two regulations that so fundamentally alter the relationships between the federal government, states, accreditors, and institutions. Ultimately, we believe these regulations invite inappropriate federal interference in campus-based decisions and will limit student access to high-quality education opportunities.”

The presidents of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities have also condemned the credit hour regulation. In a recent letter, Muriel Howard and Peter McPherson state, “We are wary of federal involvement that could unnecessarily regulate and limit the vitality of our diverse system of higher education,” adding the credit hour regulation “stifles creativity and innovation in higher education while preserving and promoting the status quo.” Without objection, I’d like to submit both these letters for the record.

States and institutions should not be forced to answer to the government when pioneering new academic programs, and students should not have their academic opportunities limited because of thoughtless federal regulations. At the end of the day, the unnecessary state authorization and credit hour regulations will reduce local control and create uncertainty in postsecondary education.  Instead of over-regulating the nation’s higher education system, we should focus our efforts on simplifying federal involvement and streamlining regulatory burdens. Decisions about how best to teach postsecondary students should be left to institutions, not Washington bureaucrats.    


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