NASFAA Joins Other Higher Education Associations to Oppose the Federal Definition of a Credit Hour

NASFAA joined more than 70 other higher education associations, including accreditors, to urge the U.S. Department of Education to rescind the federal definition of a credit hour included in the program integrity final regulations.

In a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the organizations contends that there is little evidence of a problem with the current methods used to define a credit hour and no evidence that Congress wants the federal government to intervene in this area. 

"With this language, the Department of Education has federalized a basic academic concept and, at the same time, developed a complex, ambiguous and unworkable definition," writes Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, on behalf of the more than 70 associations. "The department intends to use accreditors to extend federal authority over academic decision-making on local campuses."

The letter highlights five reasons why the Department should rescind the federal definition of a credit hour.

  1. Federalizing this definition will allow the Department of Education to micro-manage campus academic programs.
  2. A federal standard will homogenize academic programs and sharply limit curricular innovations. 
  3. The definition of credit hour is ambiguous because it combines seat time and student learning outcomes -- two very different concepts. Blending such fundamentally different ideas will lead to different interpretations and confusion.
  4. This confusion will impose enormous burdens on institutions as they attempt to interpret and apply the definition to all courses. This will require highly detailed and labor-intensive compilation and evaluation.
  5. The regulation preamble suggests that an institution could create two credit hour systems, one for federal requirements and one for institutional needs. This is a false dichotomy that can't exist in practice because an accreditor cannot enforce a credit hour definition that is detached from or different than the academic measure used by the institution.