Office of Planning and Budgeting

New Federal Higher Ed Regulations Published Today

Having weighed tens of thousands of public comments, the US Department of Education released today a final set of regulations governing various aspects of higher education. While primarily aimed at what are widely seen as abuses within the for-profit higher education system, the regulations apply to all institutions and are driven by the federal government’s interest in protecting the integrity of the federal government’s $170+ billion annual investment in higher education via student aid programs (governed by Title IV of the US Higher Education Act).

Notably, final regulations regarding the controversial gainful employment rule were not published today. Having received over 90,000 public comments and facing an intense for-profit sector lobbying effort, the Department has indicated a need for more time before it is able to finalize gainful employment regulations. The Department will host public meetings on the rule on November 4th and 5th.

Inside Higher Ed has a good overview of the regulations released today, which will take effect in July 2011, as well as links to the rules and a list of the revisions made since the initial rules were proposed. Major changes include:

  • Eliminates loopholes allowing institutions to provide incentive pay for admissions and financial aid employees. The rules now explicitly state that incentive payments for employees can not “in any part” be based on enrollment or financial aid metrics.
  • Revises the definition of a credit hour for the purpose of awarding federal student aid.
  • Clarifies the timeline for returning federal student aid when a student is no longer enrolled.
  • Requires for-profit institutions to provide easily accessed graduation and job placement statistics, as well has college cost calculators.
  • Requires institutions to notify DOE of new non-degree certificate programs, some of which DOE may determine require a formal application for federal approval (note that this is an area where feedback/lobbying had a significant impact as the original rule required DOE approval for all such programs).

These rules represent a large step for the federal government in regulating higher education in the US.

For more information on the federal government’s intensifying scrutiny of the for-profit higher education sector and why it matters to traditional institutions, see our previous posts: Senator Tom Harkin and the HELP Committee Continue to Investigate For-Profit Colleges, and Under Federal Fire, For-Profit Colleges Point Finger at Publics.

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