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New California Law Requires Publication of Accreditation Documents

Posted in Accreditor News, Higher Education News, Higher Education Policy, State Authorization

Dennis Cariello

On September 17, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown approved Assembly Bill No. 2247. As explained by the Senate Bill Digest, this law “requires all campuses of every public and private postsecondary education institution in California that receives state or federal financial aid funding to make available on the institution’s Internet Web site” specified final accreditation documents.

Codified as Section 66014.8 of the California Education Code, the law specifically requires publication of the final version of any:

  • accreditation visiting team reports;
  • accreditation agency action letters following an accreditation agency’s action relating to an initial accreditation, reaffirmation, comprehensive review, special visit, or
  • any sanction or adverse action taken against an affiliated institution.

An earlier version of the bill also required publication of a institution’s self-study, a provision that was strongly opposed by the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU).

The law applies to public colleges and universities in California, as well as “Private Postsecondary Education Institutions” (a “private entity with a physical presence” in California that “offers postsecondary education to the public for an institutional charge”) and “Independent Institutions of Higher Education” (“nonpublic higher education institutions that grant undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, or both, and that are formed as nonprofit corporations in this state and are accredited by an agency recognized by the United States Department of Education”).  Some consumer advocates, such as Robert Shireman, the former Deputy Undersecretary of Education at the US Department of Education, have previously called for increased disclosure of accreditation documents for all institutions of higher education.

Department of Education Publishes Change to NACIQI Schedule

Posted in Accreditor News, Department of Education, Higher Education News, Higher Education Policy

Dennis Cariello

Earlier today, the Department of Education published a notice in the Federal Register (78 FR 68832) announcing revisions to the agenda for the December 12-13, 2013 meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI).  This is a follow up to meeting notices published on August 19, 2013 (78 FR 50401), and October 30, 2013 (78 FR 64929).

This notice removes the petition for initial recognition submitted by the Association of Institutions for Jewish Studies (AIJS) from the agenda.  In addition, the election of a NACIQI Chairperson and a Vice Chairperson will precede the Committee’s review of agencies scheduled for review.

As a reminder, the NACIQI meeting will be held on December 12-13, 2013, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel, 415 New Jersey Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20001.  NACIQI will be considering the following actions:

Petitions for Continued Recognition Accrediting Agencies
1. Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COANAEP)
2. Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
3. Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) (regional accreditor – covers Alaska,
Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington)
4. Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (WASC–ACCJC) (regional accredior – covers  associate degree-granting at schools in California,
Hawaii, the United States territories of Guam and American Samoa, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands)

State Approval Agency for Nurse Education
1. North Dakota Board of Nursing (NDBN)

Petitions for Recognition Based on a Compliance Report
1. American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA)
2. Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc. (ACPEI)
3. Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA)
4. Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE)
5. Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
6. Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE)

State Approval Agency for Nurse Education
1. New York State Board of Regents, State Education Department, Office of the Professions (Nursing Education) (NYBRN)

State Approval Agencies for Vocational Education
1. New York State Board of Regents, State Education Department, Office of the Professions (Public Postsecondary Vocational Education, Practical Nursing)
2. Oklahoma Board of Career and Technology Education (OBCTE)
3. Pennsylvania State Board of Vocational Education, Bureau of Career and Technical Education (PSVBE/BCTE)

Senate HELP Committee to Hold Hearing on the Higher Education Triad

Posted in Accreditor News, Department of Education, Higher Education News, Higher Education Policy, News from the Hill, State Authorization

Dennis Cariello

On Thursday, September 19, 2013, 10:00 AM in room 430 Dirksen Senate Office Building, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will hold a hearing — the first in a series of hearings leading up to Higher Education Act Reauthorization — entitled “The Triad: Promoting a System of Shared Responsibility.” The witnesses include:

  • Dr. Paul E. Lingenfelter, Former President, State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, Boulder, CO (Testimony)
  • Dr. Terry W. Hartle, Senior Vice President, American Council on Education, Washington, DC (Testimony)
  • Dr. Susan D. Phillips, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, NY (Testimony)
  • Dr. Marshall A. Hill, Executive Director, National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, Boulder, CO (Testimony)

Update: Chairman Tom Harkin and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander issues statements today as well (Harkin, Alexander 1, Alexander 2)

College Credit for MOOCs?

Posted in Accreditor News, Education Technology, Higher Education News, Higher Education Policy

David P. Lewis

Yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education carried an interesting story regarding the possibility that MOOCs may soon be eligible for college credit.

MOOCs are massive open online courses that the general public can register for and take for free.  Offered by companies such as edX (a non-profit, joint venture of Harvard and MIT), Coursera and Udacity, the popularity of MOOCs has exploded over the past year and they have provided consistent fodder for discussions regarding the future of higher education (while not discussing MOOCs specifically, this recent article nicely summarized three competing viewpoints on the future of higher education, including one that holds that online technology will drive higher education costs to zero in the next ten years).

One of the issues with MOOCs is whether students could ever receive credit as part of a degree program for having taken them.  The Chronicle story notes that the American Council on Education will be undertaking a study to determine whether it should include certain courses offered by Coursera in its College Credit Recommendation Service (which generally certifies non-traditional training courses for college credit).  According to the article:

 The review process by the council will be “similar to the way regional accreditation works,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of ACE. Professors will look at the content, teaching methods, “evidence of student engagement,” and other elements of MOOC’s to see if they appear equivalent to that taught by an accredited college, she added.

Among the issues ACE will look at will include how student identity is authenticated and how exams are proctered to limit opportunities for cheating.

There is some evidence that colleges, particularly those that regularly accept transfer credits, will view MOOCs in a similar fashion.  Others expect that MOOCs will eventually be accepted by all schools.  As Josh Jarrett, deputy director for postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation notes in the article, “MOOC’s may be the next generation of AP courses” and provide high school students with a way to get a jump on college.

If MOOCs do achieve credit status, that will go a long way toward solving another issue with MOOCs, which is  how to monetize them.   One path forward in this regard has been shown by Straighterline, a company that, for low membership and per course fees, provides hundreds of online courses that transfer for full credit at accepted colleges.

This is an area in which companies will continue to innovate and, with the continuing increase in higher education costs and related debt levels, changes to the traditional structure of higher education seem more likely than ever.


Subscribe to the Education Industry Reporter

Posted in Accreditor News, Education Technology, Higher Education News, International News, K-12 News

Dennis Cariello
David P. Lewis

We launched DLA Piper’s Education Industry Reporter about six months ago.  Our goal, which has largely been successful, has been to produce a legal blog “plus” – a site that includes regular, original content written by the attorneys in DLA Piper’s Education Group, as well as updated news feeds regarding current issues affecting the education industry, a calendar of industry events, and links to other education sector resources.  We have received many compliments on the site, as well as suggestions for improvements that we are considering and working on.

For a complete explanation of the features of the site, go here.  For now, just a quick reminder.  If you want to read new posts on the site but prefer not to have to navigate to the site each time to check for new content, simply enter your email address in the orange box on the right entitled “Subscribe to this Blog via RSS or by Email.”  By subscribing, you will receive a single, early-morning email containing just those new entries (if any) posted the day before (if no new entries have been posted, then no email).

Again, we hope you enjoy the site.


Facilitating a DIY Education

Posted in Accreditor News, Department of Education, Education Technology, Financial Aid (Loans & Grants), Higher Education News, Higher Education Policy, News from the Hill

Dennis Cariello

Anya Kamenetz’s DIY U: Edpunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education has been the source of debate since is was published in 2010.  As Academically Adrift caused the community to look at issues of quality, DIY U has caused the community to look at the use of open education and the necessity of linking the learning aspect of education with credentialing.  You may recall, at the US-India Higher Education Conference last November, Sam Pitroda, the Adviser to the Indian Prime Minister on Public Information, Infrastructure & Innovations, raised similar concerns, “question[ing] the need for diplomas and certificates and endors[ing] a model where students can take courses from different universities as part of learning.”  Last week, Bob Shireman, the former Deputy Undersecretary of Education at the US Department of Education, suggested that the California Student Aid Commission “develop ideas for ways the state could encourage methods of credentialing for learning outside of the traditional colleges.”   Even today, Campus Technology has an interesting discussion among three open source learning leaders about DIY U and how it might work.

On the other side, you have regulatory hurdles that present serious obstacles to decoupling learning from credentialing.   Federal laws and regulations mandate, for example, the accreditation of institutions, rather than of programs, making DIY degrees difficult to navigate – and more so given complex transfer credit rules.  Then you have commentatorsstates, and the Obama Administration trying to reward students and institutions based on success measures like graduation rates.  Coming full circle, even some accreditors are considering incorporating graduation-proficiency assessments.

Although there can and will always be a place for brick and mortar institutions, it would be surprising if higher education could stave off DIY degrees.  The advent of online education has allowed students to pursue more and more student-centric educational options.  It is only a short step from taking classes at times and places of a student’s choosing to having a student demand to be taught by specific professors or designing the elements of their personal education.  Such models can have great value.  If sufficiently rigorous, it seems likely that students will be more engaged in their education and, presumably, get more from their classes.

Of course, so long as education policy and regulation forces students to work within specific institutions — either as a quality control (via accreditation) or to protect the government’s investment in student aid (via success metrics) — students will not be able to effectively design their education or, at least, will face significant hurdles to doing so.  Degree-seeking students taking courses at multiple institutions would be at the mercy of, what is often, Byzantine credit transfer policies.  Further, as students move from school to school, the government will be less able to track success — however defined — and thus student aid could be at risk.

One solution would be, as Mr. Shireman suggests, for states to develop competency tests that could provide the sought-after credential.  Such an idea has merit as far as it goes.  Students could theoretically take classes from a variety of sources and achieve the desired degree.  While there are practical issues that complicate this proposal — would each major have its own test? — there may be ways to incorporate this idea for certain disciplines.

Another solution would be for schools to create uniform transfer of credit policies, perhaps for schools with the same accreditors.

Perhaps another would be to create an institution that exists to, in essence, pass judgment on courses from various formats to determine if such courses are worth of credit towards a degree.   Such an institution would confer the degree and, in the process, act as an “accreditor” of sorts, for individual courses.  Of course, with necessary changes, you could create such an accreditor — similar to the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service.

While there are more ideas to be explored in the future – massive online consortia, perhaps? –  the DIY degree is likely to be a feature of higher education from some time.  With Higher Education Act re-authorization around the corner, lawmakers will hopefully be looking at ways to foster this concept rather then destroy such innovation through burdensome regulations.

House to Consider Repeal of State Authorization, Credit Hour Regulations

Posted in Accreditor News, Credit Hour, Department of Education, Higher Education News, Higher Education Policy, News from the Hill, Office of the Inspector General (OIG), State Authorization

Dennis Cariello

As reported by Inside Higher Ed, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to consider the “Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act” (H.R. 2117), which would repeal the federal definition of a credit hour and end the requirement that colleges obtain authorization to operate from every state where they enroll students in online classes.  The legislation, which was authored by Higher Education Subcommittee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and has 69 co-sponsors, currently has bipartisan support in the House, although the extent of such support is unclear.  While the bill seems likely to pass the House vote, it is unclear of its fate in the Senate.   While the Obama administration released a statement yesterday opposing the legislation, it did not threaten a veto if passed:
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 2117, which would nullify certain Department of Education regulations that help ensure the integrity of the programs of student financial assistance under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. These regulations are necessary to prevent the inflation of the academic credits attributed to postsecondary education courses that could result in the over-awarding of Federal student aid, and for the efficient administration of the student financial aid programs. Congress should not prevent the Secretary of Education from responsibly administering these programs and ensuring that consumers and taxpayers are protected from fraud, waste, and abuse.

In a press release, House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) said, “We can’t tackle rising college costs without recognizing how Washington has contributed to the problem. Over the years, the nation’s higher education system has become increasingly complex with layers of new rules and programs. H.R. 2117 will repeal two troublesome regulations that pile additional costs and restrictions on colleges and students, and I am pleased to lend my support.”

“It’s time to stop complaining about the college tuition problem, and take concrete action by repealing two federal regulations that are costly and unnecessary,” Rep. Foxx said in the same release. “The Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act will repeal the credit hour and state authorization regulations – two mandates that insert the federal government into decisions that have historically been the sole responsibility of institutions and states.”

In a statement on the bill, Democrats against the measure have argued that the bill undercuts oversight of higher education: “the Department of Education’s Inspector General has identified loopholes that allow schools to ‘game the system,’ such as manipulating credit hours in order to receive more federal aid funds. Regrettably, H.R. 2117 would overturn the Department’s efforts to prevent such gaming and other efforts to ensure that students and taxpayers receive a quality education for their investment.”

The bill has garnered support from across higher education. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, “the American Council on Education sent letters signed by 98 higher education associations and accreditors to members of Congress on Monday, urging them to support the bill.”

Last June, the House Education and the Workforce Committee approved the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act with bipartisan support in a vote of 27 to 11.

Tuesday’s Federal Register Roundup – NACIQI Meeting December 14-16

Posted in Accreditor News, Department of Education, Higher Education News, Higher Education Policy

Dennis Cariello

We will try and make this a (somewhat) regular feature – depending on the nature of the register notices published (somehow posting paperwork reduction act notices doesn’t strike me as exciting to anyone).  Today we have an important one – the Department of Education (Department) published the amended agenda and procedures for making oral comments at the December 14–16, 2011 open meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) (this sets forth changes to the meeting agenda that was published in the August 17, 2011, Federal Register (76 FR 51014)).  The NACIQI meeting will be held on December 14–16, 2011, from 8:30 a.m. to approximately 5:30 p.m., at the Crowne Plaza Old Town Alexandria, Washington Ballroom, 901 North Fairfax Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Rather than make a recommendation to the Senior Department Official concerning the informational report from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (HLC), the NACIQI will review of an informational report on initial accrediting decisions since October 2010 by HLC as required by the corrective actions report issued by the Department’s Office of Postsecondary Education on May 6, 2010.  At the December 2010 NACIQI meeting, HLC was asked to “provide evidence of its review and approval of institutions to demonstrate that it effectively implemented its new ‘Notification’ process, which is part of the HLC’s substantive change policy for additional locations.”

Also, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (WASC) will be presenting a compliance report concerning “[t]he accreditation and preaccreditation of two-year, associate degree-granting institutions” in WASC’s operating area, “including the accreditation of such programs offered via distance education at these colleges.”

In addition, the NACIQI will also consider the October 18, 2011 discussion draft of Higher Education Accreditation Reauthorization Policy Considerations (Draft).  Interestingly, the Draft lays out some thirty options for consideration in the discussion on the role of accreditation in federal higher education policy.  At the core, however, the first three options frame all those to follow: (1) retain accreditation as part of the triad with some minor/less dramatic changes; (2) abandon accreditation as a federal requirement altogether and replace it with something else; (3) use a hybrid model where accreditation is optional – schools that do not wish to obtain accreditation would have to comply with alternate, outcomes-based metrics.  It’s worth looking at the other options, but they all seem to fall into one of these three categories.   I will be interested in seeing the comments to this and see what the ultimate recommendations are.  Speaking of comments, another register notice sets forth the procedures for making oral and written comments on the Draft.


Welcome to the Education Industry Reporter

Posted in Accreditor News, Education Technology, Higher Education News, International News, K-12 News, News from the Hill

Dennis Cariello
David P. Lewis

Welcome and thank you for coming to DLA Piper’s Education Industry Reporter.  We hope that Education Industry Reporter will serve as a one-stop site for education news and analysis.  The site includes both regular, original content written by the attorneys in DLA Piper’s Education Group, as well as continually updated current news feeds and content from dozens of other sources regarding issues affecting the education industry.  Our goal is to combine “big picture” features with analysis of thorny regulatory issues that will be interesting to industry participants – executives and technicians alike.

Education Industry Reporter is a work in progress, and we expect the site to evolve over time as we receive feedback from clients, friends and other users of the site.  So, if you have any comments – good or bad, praise or blame – please contact us.  To be a success, this site needs to be useful, and our readers will define what is useful. 

We and our colleagues prepared a fair amount of content before going live with the site, so we hope that you will take the time to review some of our past posts in addition to returning to the site in the future to read new posts and obtain up-to-date news about the industry.   Please keep reading for a brief description of the current features of the site. Continue Reading

Law School Placement Data Under Continued Scrutiny

Posted in Accreditor News, Higher Education News, Litigation News

David P. Lewis

In May and August, 2011, class action lawsuits were filed against Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Thomas M. Cooley School of Law, and New York Law School alleging that the schools had induced students to attend, in part, by misrepresenting job placement data.  In essence, the claim is, the schools had inflated placement rates by including in them jobs that did not require a law degree.

Following the publicity surrounding these suits, the issue of inflated placement data at law schools has remained in the spotlight.  Earlier this week, U.S. News & World Report published an article that focused on the types of “non-traditional” jobs law graduates have been accepting, noting the “creativity” that new law grads have been required to bring to their job searches in the current economic environment.  Continue Reading

ABA to Discuss Proposed Changes to Accreditation Standards

Posted in Accreditor News, Higher Education News

Dennis Cariello

On October 1, 2011, at an open meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago, Illinois, the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions will discuss and approve items to be circulated for Notice and Comment related to U.S. Department of Education recognition.  The proposed changes cover job placement, student loan default rates, and teach-out plans.  Of note are the proposals regarding job placement.  Job placement rates would now be a factor in judging institution compliance with standard 301 (in a revised interpretation 301-3).  In addition, the proposals for new interpretive standard 301-7 provide some definition to the requirement:

Proposal A

A school’s placement rates shall be sufficient, for purposes of Standard 301(a), if, for any of the three previous graduating classes, the percentage of graduates who were unemployed/seeking or had unknown employment status (as of nine months after graduation) is no more than one standard deviation below the average for all ABA approved law schools’ graduates.

Proposal B

A school’s placement rates shall be sufficient, for purposes of Standard 301(a), if: (1) for any of the three previous graduating classes, the percentage of graduates who were unemployed/seeking or had unknown employment status (as of nine months after graduation) is not more than 15 percentage points above the average for all ABA approved schools in the two states in which most of the school’s graduates took the bar examination; and (2) for the previous graduating class, the percentage of graduates who were unemployed/seeking or had unknown employment status (as of nine months after graduation) is not more than 15 percentage points higher than the percentage reported by the school for the immediately preceding graduating class. Continue Reading

WASC Approves New Credit Hour Policy

Posted in Accreditor News, Department of Education, Higher Education News

Dennis Cariello

On September 2, in response to the Department of Education’s new credit hour regulations (34 CFR 600.2 and 34 CFR 600.24), the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) announced the enactment of its new policies related to credit hours.  As part of the new policy, WASC will review:

(1) The adoption of a policy on credit hour for all courses and programs at the institution; (2) The processes the institution employs to review periodically the application of its policy on credit hour across the institution to assure that credit hour assignments are accurate and reliable; (3) Any variations in the assignment of credit hours to assure that they conform to commonly accepted practices in higher education.

To this end, WASC evaluation teams:

will review institutional documentation including the institution’s policy on credit hour and expectations at each degree level, evidence of the implementation of institutional review processes to assure the reliability and accuracy of credit hour assignments in all courses and programs, and through sampling, a variety of course credit assignments based on degree level, academic discipline, delivery modes, and types of academic activities.

Additionally, WASC will review credit hour issues as part of all comprehensive reviews, as well as any review conducted by the substantive change committee.

For schools, this places a greater emphasis on the documentation of decision making related to credit hour allocations.  In particular, documenting the basis for time allotted to out-of-classroom work will be very helpful in case any accreditor or the Department of Education raises questions.  Perhaps the best check however is to look at your peers.  Before you allocate eight credits to that Freshman writing seminar, you might want to check what a few other colleges are doing.  In case you are curious, WASC has provided some helpful resources, including the credit hour policies of San Diego State Univeristy and UC-Berkeley.

Department of Education Defines “Credit Hour”

Posted in Accreditor News, Credit Hour, Department of Education, Higher Education News

Dennis Cariello
Patricia V. Edelson

In Dear Colleague Letter GEN-11-06, the US Department of Education has provided guidance on the definition of a credit hour in the program integrity regulations.

Also included in the Letter, released March 18, 2011, was reference to clock hour and clock-to-credit hour conversion rules.  The rules, which were originally proposed in a notice of proposed rule-making  (75 FR 34806-34890) published June 18, 2010, and published in final form on October 29, 2010 (75 FR 66832-66975), are scheduled to take effect July 1, 2011. For more information on the final rules, please read our earlier Alert.

These rules apply to schools that receive funds authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, such as Pell Grants and federal student loans.

The Department issued the Letter to provide guidance to institutions and accrediting agencies regarding a credit hour as defined in the final regulations.  The primary purpose of the Letter was to highlight the flexibilities inherent in the credit hour definition and to correct any misunderstandings in the higher education community.  The guidance related to the credit hour definition also included the role of accrediting agencies in approving institutions’ credit hour definitions.

The Department also provided some guidance on clock hour and clock-to-credit hour regulations, but questions still remain about these regulations.
Continue Reading