I am writing to you today on a matter that needs your immediate attention. The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote next week on a bill (H.R 2117) to repeal two problematic Department of Education regulations that went into effect July 1, 2011.
H.R. 2117, approved by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce last summer, would first repeal the so-called state authorization regulation which significantly expands and complicates existing federal requirements for an institution to legally operate within a state. The regulation forces institutions to meet any state requirements necessary to offer distance education in the state where the student is located while receiving instruction. This costly regulation threatens to upset recognition and complaint resolution procedures that have functioned effectively for decades and could lead to greater state authority over private colleges and universities. In addition, H.R. 2117 would repeal the new federal definition of a credit hour and ban the education secretary from establishing such a rule in the future.
I know these regulations are of great concern to many of you, so it is imperative that you contact your representative before close of business Tuesday, Feb. 28, and ask him or her to vote in favor of H.R. 2117. ACE and a coalition of higher education organizations will also send a letter to House members asking them to support the bill.
You may want to consult this July 2011 summary document on the problems inherent in these regulations, but in brief, the two main issues are:
Credit hour: Establishing a federal definition of a credit hour opens the door to federal interference in core academic decisions that must be left to individual institutions. As a secondary matter, the definition at issue is ambiguous, and we believe the lack of effective guidance on implementation will pose serious challenges as campuses begin to review curricula to ensure compliance.
State authorization: The new state authorization procedure is extremely complicated and replaces a straightforward administrative requirement which worked very well. This change has the effect of greatly increasing the cost of providing distance education, to the point that some institutions with plans to expand their online offerings have been forced to reconsider.
In addition, the rule includes new requirements for distance education programs that will force many institutions to comply with state policies that often are confusing, expensive and outdated. The department announced in April 2011 that it will take a limited enforcement stance over the next three years on the distance learning portion of the state authorization rule, acknowledging these challenges. Some additional guidance on compliance was included in the announcement, but we remain seriously concerned about the rule.
Please let us know if you need any further information about this legislation or would like to discuss how best to approach your House member.
Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE