Federal Regs Threaten Colleges
Special Report - November 8, 2010
New regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for the oversight of colleges and universities have Christian colleges worried about their ability to operate according to their missions. The directives were issued on November 1 in response to allegations of financial aid fraud at some for-profit colleges and universitiespractices that are already illegal under current federal law. The changes increase oversight of higher educational institutions through state chartering and licensing requirements for participation in federal student aid programs. States are required to develop a “substantive” procedure for licensing private educational institutions that includes “adverse action” against institutions that do not comply by July 1, 2011. Currently, schools are eligible to receive Title IV financial aid so long as they are approved by a federally recognized accrediting agency and allowed to operate in a particular state. The changes in the regulations may impact Christian colleges’ ability to set their own standards for curriculum, admissions, and hiring by requiring them to meet state standards instead.
The 14 directives include efforts to ensure program integrity through standards for “holding programs accountable for preparing students for gainful employment,” “protecting consumers from misleading or overly aggressive recruiting practices, and clarifying state oversight responsibilities,” “ensuring that only eligible students receive federal funds,” and “clarifying the courses that are eligible for federal aid,” and the appropriate amount of aid. According to a November 4 report by The Heritage Foundation, the most concerning of these proposals “would require state authorization of high education institutions, impose gainful employment requirements, and dictate a one-size-fits-all definition of a credit hour.” Traditionally, certification has been primarily associated with nongovernmental accrediting agencies. The Heritage report notes that the DOE solutions “impose government regulations that will raise costs for students and limit their education opportunities,” rather than “addressing cost escalation, transparency, and accountability” that is badly needed in higher education.
A small exemption exists for religious institutions that are already exempted from state authorization either by state law or the state’s constitution. Exempted schools must meet the DOE’s new definition of a religious institutionan institution “owned, controlled, operated, and maintained by a religious organization lawfully operating as a nonprofit religious corporation and [which] awards only religious degrees or religious certificates.” Such a definition excludes colleges like Georgetown, Notre Dame, Baylor, and Wheaton.
According to Christianity Today, Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Educationa group that represents more than 2,000 public and private, for-profit and nonprofit schoolsworries that in trying to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure educational quality, “state bureaucrats will use the new authority to go well beyond these mandates” and “get into the business of judging curriculum, student admissions, and faculty hiring.”
Christianity Today also quoted Pauls Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, as writing that the new regulations “could inadvertently or intentionally be especially onerous to our institutions that are trying to incorporate a Christian/biblical worldview in virtually every aspect of our institutional programs.”
Groups Fight For Religious Freedom - August 31, 2010
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