NAICU Washington Update

Huntington University President Testifies at Hearing on State Authorization and Credit-hour Regs

March 23, 2011

On March 11, the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing to examine new regulations related to state authorization and the definition of a credit hour.  Blair Dowden, president of Huntington University, testified on behalf of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and NAICU.  The subcommittee also heard from a regional accreditor, the president of Excelsior College, and the Department of Education's Inspector General.

In his testimony, Dowden noted that a major problem with a federal definition of a credit hour is that it "inserts the federal government squarely into one of the most sacrosanct elements of higher education."  Moreover, he observed that the attempt to turn the credit hour into a "simple accounting unit" demonstrates a "fundamental misunderstanding" of its use and purpose.

Dowden also expressed strong concern about the new state authorization requirements, particularly as they might be applied to institutions with a religious mission.  Noting that Huntington is a Christian institution, he emphasized the institution's mission was central to all its decision-making.  He acknowledged that the regulation includes a religious exemption, but said the exemption is so narrowly drawn that neither Huntington nor any other member of CCCU will be covered by it.

In summation, he noted that "my concerns are not intended to deny the need for accountability and excellence in higher education, or out of a concern that Huntington University would not meet quality standards . . . Rather, I oppose these regulations because they unnecessarily interfere with the good work that my institution and many others are doing, because they have the likelihood of raising costs without delivering value to students, and because they create the potential for misunderstanding, misapplication, and even mischief by politically motivated state actors."

Ralph Wolff, president of the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, also detailed strong objections to these two regulations.  Regarding the credit-hour definition, he concluded that "it is possible that Departmental review of institutions and accrediting agencies will delve into actual institutional policies on credit awards, or course credit assignments, or the accrediting agency's review methodology - ultimately federalizing the entire system of credit awards."

Summarizing the flaws in the state authorization provisions, Wolff noted that the regulation "fails to address a clearly stated problem; creates significant confusion in its implementation; and represents a major burden on states and institutions which far exceeds the nature of the problem being addressed."

John Ebersole, president of Excelsior University, focused on concerns regarding the costs and difficulties associated with complying with the distance education provisions of the state authorization regulations. Department of Education Inspector General Kathleen Tighe reiterated strong support for a federal definition of credit hour, based on her office's review of three accreditation agencies. (See Washington Update, July 8, 2010)

This hearing was a continuation of the committee's series of oversight hearings on regulatory burden.  On March 17 the full committee held a hearing focusing on the proposed gainful employment regulations.

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