Updated federal regulations target for-profit colleges

The regulations define a credit hour and establish procedures for accrediting agencies to determine whether an institution’s assignment of credit is acceptable, the department said.

Although ED said it is not intruding into academics, others say they are not so sure.

“It’s quite likely they’ve federalized the definition of credit hour,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the American Council on Education, an umbrella group that represents higher education. “Our position is that no successful and diverse industry is improved by federalizing important aspects of it.”

ED significantly scaled back one part of the gainful employment rule, doing away with a proposal that would have required schools wanting to start aid-eligible occupational programs to provide five years of enrollment projections and get documentation from employers showing the curriculum aligns with job needs.

Under the final regulations, schools instead will be required to notify ED 90 days in advance of starting a new program. If the department has concerns, schools will be asked to apply for new program approval, a scenario ED officials said would be rare.

ED said it was important to get that on the books by next summer, because the full gainful employment regulations are not scheduled to go into effect until summer 2012.

Otherwise, institutions could quickly start new programs or restructure existing ones, eliminating a data trail and skirting the new rules, ED said.

Harris Miller, CEO of the for-profit college industry’s main lobbyist, Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, called the change “a much more reasonable and pragmatic approach.”

Lanny Davis, a lobbyist for a group for several large privately held for-profit colleges, called it a step in the right direction.

Earlier on Oct. 27, Davis held a conference call criticized the original proposal, saying it would block career college students from learning about new technologies and getting training for green jobs.

Laura Ascione