Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives voted 303 to 114 Tuesday to repeal a pair of regulations that created a federal definition of "credit hour" and required states to step up their oversight over colleges.
Sixty-nine Democrats voted for the bill, which is backed by for-profit and nonprofit institutions alike. It's unlikely, though, that the measure will survive in the Democratic-controlled Senate, at least as a stand-alone bill. And if it does clear the Senate, it could still face a veto from President Obama, who issued a statement Monday strongly opposing the repeal.
In the statement, the president said that the rules, which took effect in July, "help ensure the integrity" of the federal student-aid programs and prevent credit inflation that "could result in the overawarding of federal student aid."
Colleges say there is no evidence of problems in the awarding of credits or state oversight, and accuse the administration of overreaching. In a letter sent to members of Congress on Monday, the American Council on Education and dozens of other education and accreditation organizations said the credit-hour rule "opens the door to federal interference in the core academic decisions surrounding curriculum" and forces institutions to "review tens of thousands of courses in an effort to ensure consistency with it." The state-oversight rule, which clarifies that states must authorize programs operating within their borders, "intrudes upon prerogatives properly reserved to the states" and could stifle the growth of online education, they continued.
The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities has sued the Education Department over the state-authorization requirement, arguing that it was developed without adequate due process. In July, a U.S. District Court judge tossed out a portion of the rule requiring colleges that offer online programs to students in other states to seek approval from each of those states. The Education Department is appealing.
Before passing Tuesday's bill, lawmakers adopted an amendment by Rep. Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, who is the bill's sponsor. It struck a portion of the rules that increased the number of programs measured in clock hours, rather than credit hours. Students enrolled in clock-hour programs typically qualify for less federal student aid than do their peers in credit-hour programs.