Proprietary School Bill Delayed One Week In Senate Education Committee

SB1170/HB1091 was delayed one week in the Senate Education Committee yesterday.  The committee will take up the bill on March 13.  Action on the bill has been delayed in the House Education Subcommittee until March 19.

The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) and Sen. Jim Summerville (R-Dickson), authorizes for-profit (proprietary) postsecondary education institutions (accredited by a body recognized by the US Department of Education) to award any degree of their choosing, such as a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree.

Under current rules promulgated by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, procedures for awarding these degrees are much more stringent for proprietary institutions that are not regionally accredited.

Regional accreditation is the golden standard of higher education accreditation.  Under current rules, if an institution is not regionally accredited, they are required to have transfer agreements with at least two regionally accredited universities (one of which must be located in Tennessee) in order to award certain academic degrees, such as a B.A., B.S., or A.S.

Existing rules make certain that degrees being offered by proprietary schools meet the rigorous standards of Tennessee SACS accredited colleges and universities.  SACS is the regional accrediting body for degree-granting higher education institutions in the Southern States.

Currently, non-regionally accredited proprietary schools must award “Applied Associate’s” or “Applied Bachelor’s” degrees if they do not have the aforementioned transfer agreements.  These degrees are non-transferable to regionally accredited institutions in Tennessee.

SB1170 would allow non-regionally accredited colleges to name degrees as they choose, without any proof that they will be transferable to regionally accredited institutions in the state.

This may lead students to enroll under the mistaken belief that the degrees meet the same standards as degrees offered by the state’s regionally accredited colleges and universities.

All institutions of higher learning may apply to become regionally accredited, although many do not because of the cost involved in hiring highly qualified faculty and establishing sufficient student learning resources.

Treating these institutions as regionally accredited without their meeting the required standards implies a level of academic quality and rigor that simply isn’t there. Furthermore it realistically jeopardizes the students in such programs by failing to provide any consumer protection.

This bill represents another attempt by non-regionally accredited proprietary institutions to obtain a loophole around the process that the quality of programs offered by the University of Tennessee, the Board of Regents, and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association go through every year.

To check the bill’s status, click here.