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ACE, Other Groups Ask Education Department to Rescind State Authorization Rule

The American Council on Education (ACE) and 59 higher education and accrediting organizations yesterday sent a letter to the Department of Education requesting that it rescind the so-called state authorization regulation released in October as part of the final package of program integrity rules.

The final rules are scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2011.

The state authorization rule has caused considerable concern in the higher education community since it was first released in draft form in June 2010. The letter outlines two primary problems with the final rule.

Under the Higher Education Act, an institution must be “legally authorized” by the state in which it is located to participate in Title IV federal student aid programs. The new rule expands this requirement by establishing minimum standards a state must follow in the authorizing process. In their letter, the groups express “grave concerns” about how the federal effort will substantially complicate the process, chiefly for private, non-profit institutions. Religious institutions are particularly concerned that the rule could lead to the imposition of new state requirements that would be inconsistent with or contrary to their missions.

The letter also notes a series of problems with the new requirements for distance education programs. The new rule requires an institution that provides distance learning outside of its home state to be able to demonstrate that it has met “any state requirements for it to be legally offering postsecondary distance or correspondence education in that state.” The associations contend this provision essentially places the federal government in the role of enforcing state policy and could seriously harm the efforts of distance education providers to serve students. 

 “Distance education providers have a responsibility to fully comply with state law, even though this can be challenging,” the groups wrote. “States can and do enforce their own distance education laws, and the prior absence of a federal regulation on this topic has in no way hindered their efforts.” 

In an effort to help institutions better understand the implications of the new rule on state authorization, ACE and the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA) are offering a webinar on March 17 from 12-2:00 p.m. EDT. Topics will include:

  • Origins and objectives of the state authorization requirement
  • Documenting “home state” authorization—potential compliance problems
  • Meeting “any state requirements” to be “legally offering” distance education in individual states
  • Meeting state complaint procedure requirements
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