NAICU Washington Update

Higher Ed, Accreditation Communities Urge Recission of Federal Credit Hour Definition

February 19, 2011

NAICU joined more than 70 higher education associations and accrediting organizations in a February 16 letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, urging that he rescind a regulation that provides a federal definition of "credit hour." Included in regulations issued last October, the definition is scheduled to take effect on July 1. However, accreditation agencies are already in the process of revising their policies and procedures to assure conformance and compliance with the new definition.

Throughout the regulatory process, NAICU has expressed strong opposition to federal credit hour definition. (See Washington Updates: 11/10/09, 2/10/10, 7/9/10, 9/17/10, 12/22/10, and 2/11/11.) We were encouraged when the definition was dropped at the close of the negotiated rulemaking process, but were disappointed when the proposed regulations included a definition. The higher education and accreditation communities weighed in strongly against the definition during the public comment period, but the Department chose to go forward with a definition.

It's still more distressing that the final regulations included a new definition even more troublesome than the the one originally proposed. The new definition doesn't just raise serious concerns about inappropriate federal involvement in academic matters, but also has led to massive confusion about its meaning. Some are interpreting the new definition to mean that a whole new method of assigning credit hours would need to be developed so that specific learning outcomes and levels of student achievement could be assigned to specific units of time.

The February 16 letter reiterates the serious philosophical and practical concerns of institutions and accreditors about the definition. While we've received some indication that Department officials better understand the depth of the opposition to the definition, it remains to be seen whether they will ultimately address these serious concerns.

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