Task Force Urges Regulatory Reform
The final report of the Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education is highly critical of the Department of Education's oversight of colleges and universities stating institutions, "find themselves enmeshed in a jungle of red tape, facing rules that are often confusing and difficult to comply with."
A bipartisan group of senators established the task force in 2013 to help inform their efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Made up of 16 college, university, and association presidents and chancellors, the task force's goals were broad: to summarize the increasing burden of federal regulations; identify regulations of particular concern, explain them and recommend changes; and offer long-term process improvements. NACUBO provided input about the particular concerns of business officers.
Among the regulations addressed in the 144-page document are the financial responsibility standards, rules for return of Title IV funds when a student withdraws, voluminous consumer information requirements, and campus safety rules. Arguing that "smarter rules are needed," the report laid out 12 guiding principles for improving ED's regulatory scheme:
- Regulations should be related to education, student safety, and stewardship of federal funds.
- Regulations should be clear and comprehensible.
- Regulations should not stray from clearly stated legislative intent.
- Costs and burdens of regulations should be accurately estimated.
- Clear safe harbors should be created.
- The department should recognize good faith efforts by institutions.
- The department should complete program reviews and investigations in a timely manner.
- Penalties should be imposed at a level appropriate to the violation.
- Disclosure requirements should focus on issues of widespread interest.
- All substantive policies should be subject to the "notice-and-comment" requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.
- Regulations that consistently create compliance challenges should be revised.
- The department should take all necessary steps to facilitate compliance by institutions.
"This report will guide our efforts to weed the garden and allow colleges to spend more of their time and money educating students, instead of filling out mountains of paperwork," stated Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and task force member.
The HELP committee will hold a hearing February 24 to discuss the report's findings. Task force co-chairs, William "Brit" Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland; and Nicholas Zeppos, chancellor of Vanderbilt University, will testify.