While it recognizes that federal regulations are necessary, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has flagged a few of them as particularly overburdensome for its member colleges, which can unduly present compliance issues for them.
At a public hearing Tuesday hosted by the U.S. Education Department’s Regulatory Reform Task Force, AACC’s David Baime outlined that many community colleges are feeling the weight of certain regulations when it comes to keeping up to date on changes and the paperwork involved. He noted that the Federal Student Aid Handbook is almost 1,400 pages, and there are separate handbooks for Clery Act compliance.
The gainful employment (GE) regulations are “particularly onerous,” said Baime, who serves as senior vice president of government relations and policy analysis.
“Without a doubt, compliance with the letter of the GE regulations entails a lot of institutional effort,” he said. “But its cost has been exacerbated by the ever-changing refinements and changes that ED has issued,” such as 108 dear-colleague letters and other announcements, and counting. “And now we’re headed for our third iteration of this rule,” referring to ED’s recent decision to take another look at GE regulations.
AACC noted in submitted comments to ED that compliance costs for individual colleges can result in higher tuition and also fewer services for students.
“This must remain in focus as the department undertakes its current review and when it contemplates future regulations,” the association said.
Developing a partnership
At Tuesday’s hearing, Baime also noted that ED’s regulation process for program reviews is uneven, saying that some department regional offices are “much more prone to enforcing certain aspects” of federal Title IV regulations than others.
Another issue: institutional liabilities incurred when a college is out of compliance. Baime encouraged a relationship that’s a partnership, where ED and colleges work together to best serve students, rather than a “command-and-control” one that’s focus on punishing colleges for minor, inadvertent mistakes.
“Time and again, we hear of colleges that have made an inadvertent mistake in program administration who are them subjected to what they believe are disproportionate liabilities, and of course its students who ultimately pay,” he said. “Throwing the book’ at a community college does not serve the public interest.”
In its written comments, AACC addressed in more detail its concerns with GE regulations, as well as regulations providing student loans relief to borrowers — such as those who were defrauded or attended for-profit colleges that closed in mid-year — and guidance on sexual violence on campus, among others.
Also at the hearing was Quintin Bullock, president of the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, who spoke on the importance of Pell Grants. He recommended that students receive a flat grant award rather than have the grant amount determined on a sliding scale.