NASFAA Joins Higher Ed Groups Urging House to Repeal State Authorization, Definition of Credit Hour

NASFAA joined 22 higher education groups urging lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives to vote for legislation that would repeal the credit hour definition and state authorization regulations that took effect July 1, 2011.

The House is scheduled to vote on the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act (H.R 2117) this week. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate, but Senators have not voted on it. NASFAA has opposed the state authorization and credit hour regulations in the past.

“The credit hour definition and state authorization regulations…are the product of a larger attempt by ED to curb abuse and bring greater integrity to the federal student aid programs,” the higher education groups state in a letter sent to lawmakers on Friday. “However, given the almost total lack of evidence of a problem in the context of credit hour or state authorization, these two portions of the package miss their mark.”

H.R. 2117, introduced in June 2011 by Chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), would repeal the Department of Education’s definition of a credit hour and prohibit the Secretary from defining the term in the future.  Higher education associations including NASFAA have maintained that the Department’s definition of a credit hour is ambiguous and interferes with campus-based decisions on curriculum at the institutional level. 

Rep. Foxx’s bill would also repeal the state authorization regulation, a rule that many in the higher education community say would significantly expand and complicate existing federal requirements for an institution to legally operate within a state. 

“The state authorization regulation intrudes upon prerogatives properly reserved to the states, potentially upsetting recognition and complaint resolution procedures that have functioned effectively for decades,” the letter states. “It has also generated enormous confusion in the distance education arena and has created a market for definitive legal compilations of the extensive number of statutory requirements within each of the states with which institutions must comply.”

Under the state authorization rules, all higher education institutions must be legally authorized by the state in which they reside to establish eligibility for their students to attain Title IV programs funds. The rules include a provision to ensure institutions are in compliance with regulations of states in which the institution does not have a physical presence but does offer distance education. Last summer, ED extended the deadline for state authorization requirements, by not limiting Title IV student eligibility for distance education activities undertaken before July 1, 2014, so long as the institution makes good faith efforts to meet state authorization requirements. While ED's extension provides temporary relief for the state authorization requirement, H.R. 2117 would call for its permanent repeal.

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