Submitted by Paul Fain on August 13, 2013 - 3:00am
Capella University announced that the U.S. Department of Education has granted approval to two new, competency-based degree programs. The university's "FlexPath" online bachelor's of science in business and master of business administration degrees are so-called "direct assessment" tracks, which are not based on the credit hour standard. Students in the two programs can now access federal financial aid thanks to the department's green light. Southern New Hampshire's College for America is the only other institution to receive such approval, but Northern Arizona University is also seeking it. Regional accreditors have signed off on the direct assessment degrees at all three institutions.
A U.S. Senate panel last weekend passed a rider to the defense appropriations bill that would count federal spending on tuition assistance for members of the military and their spouses toward a threshold that requires for-profit colleges to receive less than 90 percent of their revenue from federal sources. Military tuition spending, as well as funds from the Post 9/11 GI Bill, currently do not count as federal money under the so-call "90/10" rule. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and critic of the for-profit sector, introduced the legislation, which also prohibits for-profits from spending money from military tuition assistance on marketing or advertising.
Kaplan Inc., now makes up a larger portion of the Washington Post Company, which Monday announced the sale of The Washington Post for $250 million to Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.com. Kaplan -- which includes Kaplan University, a test preparation division and other affiliates -- brought in $548 million of the Washington Post Company's $1 billion in revenue for the second quarter of this year, according to a corporate filing. While Kaplan's revenue was down slightly compared to last year, its operating revenue improved. Revenue for the newspaper division, which has been battered by circulation declines, was $138 million for the quarter. Its operating loss for the first six months of 2013 was $49 million.
The Lumina Foundation is putting $2.3 million behind a growing effort to reduce the regulatory burden on institutions that offer online courses to students across state lines, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
Four regional commissions, including WICHE, and a number of other higher education officials want distance ed programs to be regulated by the state where they are based instead of by every state where they operate, a plan some hope will solve the longstanding, knotty problem of regulating cross-state institutions. Existing regulations requiring online programs to register in each state where they have students are simply being ignored.
Lumina is funding a voluntary solution, which mirrors recommendations from a report issued in April. The so-called State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, or SARA, would create a national series of reciprocity agreements. States would be responsible for regulating distance ed institutions based in their states. Other states would rely on that home state's work. Distance ed providers, including traditional universities and for-profit providers, could expect a decrease in their paperwork and required fees. SARA would require states across the country to change their laws to accommodate the new regulatory framework.
The head of the New England Board of Higher Education said SARA is a workable solution.
"This agreement provides a timely and voluntary means by which state authorizers and postsecondary institutions nationwide can collaborate to address key challenges, including the ongoing profusion of online learning, the misalignment of state policy requirements, and the need to expand online access and program quality," Michael K. Thomas, NEBHE’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
Altius Education, a for-profit company that runs Ivy Bridge College, announced late Thursday that Tiffin University, a nonprofit institution in Ohio, has been ordered by its accreditor to stop offering associate degrees through Ivy Bridge. Those degrees have been covered by Tiffin's accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission, which according to Altius said that the Ivy Bridge programs must end by October 20. Ivy Bridge allows students to earn associate degrees online that can then be transferred to other institutions, although that transfer has depended on the program's accreditation. Ivy Bridge said it would focus immediately on trying to help students transfer to accredited institutions.
The announcement offered this explanation of the Higher Learning Commission's action: "In 2010, the HLC board approved continuing accreditation for Tiffin University and Ivy Bridge College through 2020. Since then, the HLC has made changes to select policies and procedures, and on July 25, the HLC notified Tiffin University that the business structure of Ivy Bridge College did not align with their changes in policy and issued the October 20 deadline for disengagement."
Here is a 2011 article in Inside Higher Ed on the Ivy Bridge-Tiffin relationship, noting that the program had won many supporters.
Financial information for-profit colleges submit to the U.S. Department of Education is inconsistent and generally not helpful, according to an audit by the department's Office of Inspector General. For-profits provide financial statements to the department as a requirement of their participation in federal financial aid programs. But those statements lack transparency, the audit found, because the presentation about instruction and marketing costs is not consistent across institutions.
A federal court has denied a request by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General for a trove of emails from The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), a consumer protection group. The department had sought to enforce a subpoena that asked for transcripts of email messages related to for-profits. At issue is whether Robert Shireman, who founded the group, might have violated a federal ethics law by discussing pending regulations while he was working as an official at the department.
A federal magistrate judge, in a court filing last week, said the subpoena was an overreach because TICAS has no financial or programmatic ties to the federal government. Department officials also "conveyed ambiguous messages" about the subpoena, according to the filing. And the judge wrote that investigators can talk directly to Shireman.