Washington Watch: Some flexibility on certification rules


The U.S. Education Department (ED) continues to propose a bevy of new regulations for postsecondary institutions. One set, concerning “Institutional and Programmatic Eligibility,” largely takes effect on July 1.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) submitted comments on these regulations, which were published in final form last November, and represented during the preceding negotiated-rulemaking sessions. 

There are two particularly problematic provisions contained in the certification procedures regulations. They are:

  • 34 CFR 668.14(b)(26), which reduces the maximum allowable length of a gainful employment (GE) program from 150% of the state’s minimum educational requirements for licensure to 100%. (GE programs are essentially all community college certificate programs that are eligible for student aid. AACC opposed the change now taking effect and supports legislation that would nullify it.)
  • 34 CFR 668.14(b)(32), which requires distance education and correspondence courses to meet the educational requirements for licensure or certification in all states where the institution has enrolled students. 

ED has heard concerns from states and colleges that many will face challenges in complying by July 1 due to circumstances outside of individual institutions’ control. Therefore, a new “electronic announcement” states that institutions needing more time to comply with parts of the new certification procedures regulations by their July 1 effective date will now receive some respite. Until January 1, 2025, ED will exercise its “enforcement discretion” before acting against an institution that is out of compliance with the two provisions of the regulations.

However, ED does expect those challenges to be mitigated by the end of the year. Obviously, colleges that can be in compliance by the July 1 effective date are strongly encouraged to do so.

Specific Challenges

According to ED’s April 9 electronic announcement, colleges can defend against an enforcement action if they were out of compliance due to reasons that are “unique, time-specific, and outside the control of the institution.” Based on the concerns raised to ED, some examples of the challenges institutions may face include an inability to:

  • Obtain approvals from states or accrediting agencies for changes to program lengths.
  • Obtain approvals for academic program changes to comply with new licensure and certification requirements.
  • Obtain clarity from state licensing and certification entities about those requirements.
  • Access and use ED’s systems, such as Partner Connect.

Colleges should document the circumstances inhibiting their compliance prior to July 1. ED will consider this documentation before it takes any enforcement action related to the two provisions.   

While this new flexibility does not eliminate the new requirements, it could make them easier to adjust to.

AACC encourages members to consult the regulatory tracker for the latest in relevant activity. AACC government relations staff remain eager to hear from campuses about the challenges they are facing with these and the upcoming gainful employment and financial value transparency regulations. 

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Alexis Gravely is a legislative analyst at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

David Baime is AACC’s senior vice president for government relations.

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