The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act (H.R. 2117) by a vote of 303 to 114. Democrat opposition to the bill was split with 69 supporting the bill and 114 opposing the bill. No Republicans voted against the bill.
Representatives debate the credit hour and state authorization regulations on the House floor
The bill would repeal the federal definition of a credit hour and the requirement for institutions to comply with state authorization laws in every state they operate. These regulations went into effect on July 1, 2011 as part of the program integrity regulation package.
In addition, the House accepted an amendment to the bill to repeal a section of the credit hour regulation impacting clock hour programs. Under the program integrity rules, many programs that were measured in credit hours are now measured in clock hours instead. Students in clock hour programs are generally eligible for less federal student aid than credit hour programs.
Before becoming law, the bill must be approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate and signed by President Obama. The Obama administration issued a statement expressing its strong opposition to the bill, but stopped short of threatening to veto the bill. This makes the outcome of the legislation less certain.
The Obama administration contends that the regulations are needed to "prevent the inflation of the academic credits attributed to postsecondary education courses that could result in the over-awarding of Federal student aid."
Before the vote, NASFAA joined more than 20 higher education associations to urge Representatives to vote for the bill and repeal these regulations.
The higher education associations maintain that the new regulation that defines a credit hour "poses serious challenges for institutions as they review tens of thousands of courses in an effort to ensure consistency with it."
Regarding the new state authorization regulation, higher education associations note that it has "generated enormous confusion in the distance education arena and has created a market for definitive legal compilations of the extensive number of statutory requirements within each of the states with which institutions must comply."
Publication Date: 2/28/2012