House Committee Votes to Block Department of Education Regulations

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The House committee that oversees higher education voted today to block two of the Department of Education’s new regulations.

The move is the latest by Republicans trying to block various portions of new regulations contained in the department’s Program Integrity Initiative, which has been the subject of heavy lobbying by the for-profit colleges and their allies.

Earlier this year, Republicans in the House pushed through an amendment to H.R. 1 – the original continuing budget resolution – that would have blocked the gainful employment rules, designed to rein in the amount of debt being accumulated by students at for-profit schools. The language was opposed by the Democratic-controlled Senate and was not included in the resolution’s final version. The bill passed today has no effect on the gainful employment regulations.

By a vote of 27-11, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce today approved a bill that repeals regulations requiring that a “distance learning program” be authorized in each state where they have students and set a standard definition of its credit hour. The regulations apply to all colleges, but have been fought hardest by for-profit colleges.

The bill (H.R.2117) is called the “Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act” and was strongly backed by Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) and introduced by the chairman of the committee’s higher education subcommittee, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.). Five of 17 Democrats on the committee joined with all but one of the Republican members to pass the bill.

The bill also prohibits any definition of a credit hour from ever being promulgated.

The regulation requiring state authorization of distant learning programs in all the states in which they operate is designed to ensure that the programs meet minimum state standards for recognition.

The regulation setting a definition of a credit hour – the basic unit on which aid packages are built – was enacted after the department Inspector General found that some for-profit institutions required much less work for a credit hour and many more credit hours for graduation, thus greatly increasing student costs.

In an opening statement before the full committee, Kline said the bill was to “simplify” the role the federal government plays in higher education.

“In order to best prepare today’s students to join tomorrow’s workforce, we must ensure we are not overwhelming schools with unnecessary regulations. Too much federal overreach into postsecondary education will undoubtedly lead to higher costs and reduced access to education opportunities for millions of students,” Kline said in the statement. “In turn, this will undercut our efforts to build a stronger, more competitive economy. “

Foxx, speaking in support of her own bill, said the regulations “would allow the federal government to interfere in areas that have historically been the responsibility of institutions and states.”

She said both regulations would “negatively impact states and institutions of higher education across the country.”