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Friday, October 22, 2021

Federal definition of ‘credit hour’ challenged  

At a Congressional hearing earlier this month, higher education officials urged lawmakers to delay the planned July 1 implementation of new U.S. Department of Education regulations. These regulations would expand state authorization requirements and establish a federal definition of “credit hour.”

The new Congressional definition of a credit hour is one hour of faculty instruction and two hours of work outside of class per week, for 15 weeks a semester and 10 to 12 weeks per quarter.

The regulation is part of a package of rules, released in October, that are designed to better ensure the integrity of federal financial aid programs since the department feels schools can over-award credit hours, providing their students an edge in obtaining financial aid. This aid is normally given to students based on the number of credit hours they take.

A coalition organized by the American Council on Education initially asked the department to rescind these regulations. The coalition then urged Representative Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, to encourage the department to delay implementing the rules for a year.

At the hearing, on March 11, the subcommittee heard college leaders’ concerns about what they characterized as federal overreach into academic affairs.

Blair Dowden, president of Huntington University in Indiana, testified on behalf of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU). 

Dowden said the attempt to turn the credit hour into a simple accounting unit demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of its use and purpose.

“My concerns are not intended to deny the need for accountability and excellence in higher education, or out of a concern that Huntington University would not meet quality standards,” Dowden said. “Rather, I oppose these regulations because they unnecessarily interfere with the good work that my institution and many others are doing … They create the potential for misunderstanding, misapplication and even mischief by politically motivated state actors.”

Tony Pals, director of communications for the NAICU, believes the regulations will negatively affect schools that offer courses completely or partially online. 

Ralph Wolff, president of the Senior College Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, said his group wrote a letter to the department in opposition to the regulation.

“I had serious concerns…” Wolff said. “I asked for the definition to be withdrawn or at least a one-year postponement of implementation to allow time to address the confusion surrounding this new regulation.”

“While accreditors are permitted to sample institutional assignment of credit, there is no definition of what is a good sample size, and how this will be implemented,” Wolff said. “I am also concerned about the costs to institutions to implement the regulation and the potential to limit innovation, and distort the focus of accreditation away from quality improvement to rote compliance around seat time.”

Nancy Coolidge, a coordinator for Government Relations in the UC Office of the President’s office of Student Financial Support, said at this point University of California is not concerned about the regulation.

“UC won’t be affected,” Coolidge said. “The UC system meets or exceeds these regulation standards.”

ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached city@theaggie.org. 

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