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In the U.S. higher education system, the so-called regulatory triad of the Education Department, accreditors and the states decide what institutions qualify to receive federal student aid. But the department didn’t reserve a seat for states in a negotiated rule-making process that began Tuesday, which could significantly overhaul the rules governing college accreditors.

A debate between negotiators reached an impasse on its first day over how many state representatives to add to the process. Christopher Madaio, an assistant attorney general from the Maryland attorney general’s office, and David Tandberg, vice president of policy research and strategic initiatives at State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, both asked for spots on the panel of negotiators.

In negotiated rule making, representatives from a broad range of interest groups are asked to reach consensus on changes to federal regulations. But college representatives opposed the addition of a seat for state attorneys general.

“I think it would be very desirable to have a state voice [in] the deliberations,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education. “I am not sure that the state attorneys general are that voice, because they do not authorize the institutions.”

Ernest McNealy, president of Allen University, said lawsuits filed by the Maryland attorney general’s office against colleges in the state could create conflicts in the process.

But Robyn Smith, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and another negotiator, said the process would benefit from the inclusion of an attorney general slot as well as a seat for state higher ed agencies.

“Yes, there are conflicts,” she said. “That is inherent in this process.”