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Washington Watch: ED begins new round of ‘neg reg’

Washington Watch: ED begins new round of ‘neg reg’

Community College Daily

American Association of Community Colleges
Alexis Gravely and David Baime
January 8, 2024
Negotiators convene today for the first of three sessions held by the U.S. Education Department (ED) to develop new regulations on institutional quality and program integrity. Topics under consideration include accreditation, distance education, state authorization and “Return of Title IV Funds”. All of these issues are consequential for community colleges and their students. Fortunately, the sector is well-positioned to influence the discussions.
Of the 30 primary and alternate negotiators selected by ED to represent 15 constituent groups spanning a wide variety of public and private entities, four come from community colleges. Jo Alice Blondin, president of Clark State College (Ohio) will serve as primary negotiator representing public two-year institutions of higher education (the American Association of Community Colleges nominated Blondin to serve as a negotiator). Michael Cioce, president of Rowan College at Burlington County (New Jersey), will serve as the alternate. Dom Chase, chief financial officer at Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College, and JoEllen Price, dean of financial aid and scholarships at San Jacinto College (Texas), are also negotiators representing business officers and financial aid administrators, respectively.
ED is required to undergo negotiated rulemaking in order to rewrite rules related to Title IV of the Higher Education Act. This is the third negotiated rulemaking held under the Biden administration, which has had an ambitious and active regulatory agenda. Rules developed under the Institutional Quality and Program Integrity Committee could go into effect as early as July 2025.
According to a press release, ED’s goal for this rulemaking is to ensure that accrediting agencies and state authorizing agencies “are appropriately holding institutions accountable for providing high-quality educational opportunities“ and that financial aid policies are “more consumer-friendly.” Below is a brief summary of the issues. It is in nature of the negotiated rulemaking process for positions to develop during the negotiations, but some general reactions from AACC’s perspective are provided.
Among other things, the accreditation regulations guide the processes that ED uses to recognize accrediting agencies for Title IV approval and other purposes. In this rulemaking, the department is proposing (in its own words) to increase the rigor of accreditation by determining how ED can ensure that the standards agencies use to assess the quality of education are “sufficiently rigorous.” This obviously has tremendous implications for institutions.
ED also seeks to “support and strengthen accreditation as a critical pillar of the regulatory triad,” which it believes has been altered by state laws in Florida and North Carolina that require institutions to switch accrediting agencies. Proposed new requirements for site visits of additional “locations” by accreditors may present complications for community colleges.
State authorization
State authorization regulations govern the Title IV requirement that eligible institutions must be considered legally authorized by the state in which it operates. ED is targeting two aspects of these regulations for changes: first, exemptions from state authorization requirements, which are granted if an institution is accredited by one or more accrediting agencies or has been in operation for at least 20 years, and second, reciprocity agreements, which allow institutions to provide distance education to students located in other states that are also covered by the agreement — better known as NC-SARA. The distance education compacts are heavily relied upon by community colleges.
Distance education
These regulations govern institutions’ offering of distance education. ED has what it says is “very limited data” on students in distance education and therefore is proposing to create a “virtual location” for institutions that includes all students who are primarily being instructed through distance education. The department states that this would allow it to compare the outcomes of students enrolled in similar programs but are delivered using different modalities. These changes obviously could have a significant impact on institutions.
ED is also proposing a removal of the allowance for distance clock-hour programs to be offered through asynchronous learning. Some community college programs are offered in this format and would be negatively impacted by the change.
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