NAICU Washington Update

Program Integrity Regulations Continue to Raise Questions, Concerns

February 11, 2011

The program integrity regulations issued by the Department of Education last October (see Washington Update, 12/22/10) continue to generate questions and concerns.  Department officials indicate they'll provide additional guidance on issues such as use of third-party recruiters and the applicability of state authorization provisions to institutions offering on-line education, but just when the guidance will be published hasn't been announced.

As has been the case throughout the regulatory process, the greatest concern among the non-profit and public college associations has focused on the inclusion of a federal definition of "credit hour."  The definition raises philosophical and practical concerns - and both are likely to be exacerbated as accreditation agencies begin incorporating the new definition into their policies. So far, Department officials have turned a deaf ear to requests for a return to the agreement reached during the negotiated rulemaking process - spearheaded by NAICU negotiators - that a federal definition not be included in the regulations.

Questions also continue to be raised, especially among private, non-profit colleges (and accreditors), about the application of the state authorization provisions in general, as well as their specific application to institutions that offer distance education.  There is wide variation both among and within states regarding the laws, policies, and regulations that apply to postsecondary institutions.  On one level, there is confusion about what is expected, and inadequate information about existing state requirements.  On another level, there is the worry that state officials may overreach by imposing requirements on private, non-profit institutions that go well beyond simply granting them postsecondary authority.

The greatest public attention has centered on the gainful employment issue, given the for-profit schools' massive ad campaign.  No one yet knows the full impact of these proposals, given that final regulations haven't yet been issued.  However, institutions do need to be aware that the regulations issued last October do include a number of new data collection provisions that become effective July 1.

NAICU has prepared a chart offering thumbnail sketches of some of the key requirements and suggestions for actions institutions should be taking now to be in compliance.

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