Educators blast credit-hour regulations

Proposed regulations that establish a federal definition of “credit hour” and require state authorization of colleges and universities represent federal overreach, higher education officials told the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training last week.  New rules, set to go into effect July 1, should be postponed for further discussion, said witnesses at hearings on education regulation.

A coalition of higher education groups organized by the American Council on Education opposes the regulations.

At the hearing, John Ebersole, president of Excelsior College, said the state authorization rule would require his online institution to document that it is authorized to operate in 54 separate jurisdictions where students live, costing as much as $200,000 annually.  Few state officials are ready to comply by July 1, he said.

Blair Dowden, president of Huntington University and a board member of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, took on the regulation establishing a federal definition of “credit hour” — which he argued “inserts the federal government into one of the most sacrosanct elements of higher education.”

. . . Like Ebersole, Dowden asserted that this regulation would stifle educational innovation, potentially hampering accelerated classes, distance learning, and hybrid-format classes. Ultimately, he argued, a federal definition of “credit hour” would make accreditors less effective at measuring academic rigor, program quality and learning outcomes.

“A restrictive definition of ‘credit hour’ based on seat time alone would turn back the clock and discourage the kind of innovation that enables colleges and universities to serve these students,” Dowden said. “It is one thing to measure how much time a student spends in a classroom; it is quite another to measure how much the student learned.”

Kathleen S. Tighe, inspector general of the Education Department, defended the regulations, arguing that the new rules are needed to “ensure that students are receiving an appropriate amount of funding and instruction and that taxpayer money is being used properly.”