Regulation and oversight in higher education is important to assuring accountability for federal dollars.  In many cases, however, these requirements do not relate to good stewardship, but are imposed solely by virtue of the fact that federal student aid assistance is provided.  As a result, complying with the ever-growing array of federal requirements has become extremely costly and time-consuming for colleges and universities. 

As but one example of the extent of the problem, the Department of Education’s Consumer Information Disclosures At-a-Glance publication is 37-pages long.  “Carol’s Boxes,” a five-foot high stack of cartons containing existing regulations governing higher education, complied by former NAICU staffer Carol Fuller, were used by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to provide visual evidence of the significant regulatory demands on colleges by the Department of Education alone. 

It is not a question of the good intentions behind these requirements, but rather that they continue to accumulate with no paring back or review of what is already on the books.  Congress should decide what is critical to federal oversight, taxpayers, and higher education consumers, and then limit reporting and related regulatory requirements to those areas. 


Each year, new statutory and regulatory requirements are imposed on colleges, adding real costs at a time when institutions are being asked to tighten their belts.  Until recently, general concern about institutional burden has not been sufficient to counter the specific individual concerns of those advocating for particular requirements. 

Task Force on the Federal Regulation of Higher Education

Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is interested in eliminating many of the outdated or inapplicable regulations impacting institutions of higher education – a process that he has deemed “weeding the garden.” Although the legislative vehicle for deregulation remains unclear, Sen. Alexander has promised a serious conversation around higher education deregulation as a part of the broader HEA reauthorization process.

To help guide the deregulation effort, a bipartisan group of senators appointed 16 higher education leaders to create the Task Force on the Federal Regulation of Higher Education, which included seven NAICU members. The Task Force published a final report in 2015, focusing on regulatory requirements in the areas of student financial aid, campus security, federal Financial Responsibility Standards, data collection, disclosures, and accreditation.  The report also identified a number of specific requirements that are particularly problematic for institutions.

It is likely that the Task Force report will serve as a guide as the Trump Administration and Congress implement their deregulatory agendas.  

Recent Developments

Before taking office, President Trump highlighted the need to reduce unnecessary federal compliance costs imposed on colleges and universities. Subsequently, the president issued an executive order directing federal agencies, including the Department of Education, to take steps to lessen unnecessary regulatory burdens. In response, the Department created the Regulatory Reform Task Force to review agency regulations and guidance, and to recommend which ones to repeal, modify, or retain. The Department also solicited public comments on policies that should be repealed, replaced, or modified and conducted several public hearings on the subject. In addition, the Regulatory Reform Task Force, which issued its first progress report in May 2017, identified nearly 400 higher education guidance documents that it deemed to be outdated in its second progress report issued in October 2017.  The Department subsequently announced that it had withdrawn these guidance documents. 

The Department has also taken efforts to rescind or modify current regulations and guidance in a number of areas, although some of these changes may be driven more by an effort to alter policy than ease regulatory burden.  In addition to regulatory changes related to teacher preparation, gainful employment, borrower defense to repayment, and campus sexual assault, the Department announced its intention to establish a negotiated rulemaking committee to revise numerous regulations governing the Title IV programs.  Among others, this includes rules related to accreditation, state authorization, state authorization of distance education, credit hour definition, competency-based education, TEACH grants, and the eligibility of faith-based institutions to participate in the student aid programs.

On July 31, 2018, the Department also announced its intent to solicit public comments and plans to hold several public hearings on its most recent regulatory proposal. After the Department has had an opportunity to review the comments made at the hearings and in written submissions, the agency will announce the specific topics that will be the subject of negotiated rulemaking.

The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act offers another opportunity to seek relief.  Many of NAICU's recommendations were adopted in the House Republican proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, including provisions that would repeal regulations related to state authorization, state authorization of distance education, and the definition of credit hour.  

what you can do

  • Contact your Senators and Representative to explain the real impact of over regulation to your institution.  Use specific examples from your campus to make the case.


NAICU Contact

Jody Feder: