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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

House Education Subcommittee Holds Hearings on State Authorization; Definition of a Credit Hour

March 11, 2011

The House Higher Education and Workforce Training subcommittee held a hearing Friday, March 11, to review concerns around rules issued by the Department of Education (ED). Specifically, witness testimony and questions from the committee members were centered on two rules: the definition of a credit hour, and state authorization. Witnesses from institutions also echoed letters from the American Council on Education and other associations urging congress to delay the implementation date of the rules.

Kathleen Tighe, Inspector General for ED, explained how that office came to develop its recommendations to ED during the negotiated rulemaking process. ED's regulations reflected that advice and, Tighe testified that they, "protect both students and taxpayers by including a definition of credit hour that seeks to ensure equity in funding across institutions and among students based on the level of academic engagement and help to ensure appropriate funding based on the concept of a full-time student being academically engaged full-time.".

G. Blair Dowden, President of Huntington University, expressed concerns with the new credit hour definition. He explained how a credit hour can not only be different from institution to institution, but from program to program within a given institution. As the president of a Christian liberal arts university, Dowden also described his discomfort with the potential for states to deny authorization "because of a practice stemming from its religious mission."

Ralph Wolff, former president of the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities, and John Ebersole, president of Excelsior College, also provided testimony relating to state authorization and the definition of a credit hour.

Ebersole commented that his university has students in all 54 jurisdictions recognized by ED. The new rules would require Excelsior to document that it is authorized to operate in all 54 of those jurisdictions, creating an administrative burden. Further, Ebersole said, penalties for not complying with these rules "may result in institutional penalties ranging from return of all federal financial aid distributed while out of compliance up to removal of the institution's authorization to participate in Title IV funding."

The committee's website includes a video archive of the hearing, copies of opening statements, and transcripts of witness testimony. More hearings are scheduled for this week.


Bryan Dickson
Senior Policy Analyst