Federal Student Complaint Regulation – Clarifying Misconceptions
Published by: WCET | 7/19/2011
In the hubbub over the ‘state authorization’ issue for distance education, we have not paid as much attention to another part of the regulations released last October. Each institution must notify all current and prospective students of third-party complaint processes. In conversations with our colleagues at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), we realized that there was much confusion on this issue. Below we have provided the wording from the regulation and a table that lists what you should be doing and misconceptions we commonly observe.
And what about last week’s court ruling?? That ruling was targeted only at § 600.9 (c) of the federal regulations. It has no impact on the following regulation.
§ 668.43 (b) Institutional Information
(b) The institution must make available for review to any enrolled or prospective student upon request, a copy of the documents describing the institution’s accreditation and its State, Federal, or tribal approval or licensing. The institution must also provide its students or prospective students with contact information for filing complaints with its accreditor and with its State approval or licensing entity and any other relevant State official or agency that would appropriately handle a student’s complaint.
The above language can be found in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.
|What we know…||What we observe…|
|This new language was released in the Federal Register by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) with the other ‘program integrity’ regulatory changes on October 29, 2010.||While related to the ‘state authorization’ regulations, only the USDOE has been consistent in highlighting this issue. WCET, nor others, have emphasized it very much.|
|The information is to be provided to both current and prospectivestudents.||Institutions who have addressed this issue have tended to put notices where prospective students are likely to notice, but current students might not.|
|This information is to be provided to both on-campus and distance students.||The on-campus part of this requirement is often overlooked.|
|The student is to be informed of the complaint process for both:
||With the focus on state approval processes, the requirement for informing about accrediting agencies has often been overlooked.|
|Informing students of the complaint processes is a federal requirement. For most states, their regulations do not require that students be informed of the complaint processes.||Since this is a federal regulation, don’t ask state regulators how to implement it. While they can inform you about their state’s complaint process, they can’t interpret what the federal government’s requirements are for informing students.|
|The effective date is was July 1, 2011.||Few institutions are in compliance.The delay in enforcement for state authorization is for seeking authorization, not for the complaint process. While the U.S. Department of Education is not proactively searching for institutions that are out-of-compliance on this regulation, you should be moving toward being in compliance.|
|There is relief if a state does not have a complaint process or is creating one…
||Institutional personnel (and us) have been very confused on this point and received some helpful guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on the complaint process portion of the regulation.|
What we suggest…
Okay, you are out-of-compliance and you need to move your institution into being compliant. You can be in compliance quickly without creating
an elaborate process. To best serve students, here are some suggestions on what you can do.
It’s also good to remember that you can create something now that gets you into compliance and it can be changed later. There’s room for improvement as we learn more.
Good luck. Be sure to share your student-centric statements in the comments below.
Deputy Director, WCET
Manager, Events & Programs, WCET
Research Associate, NCHEMS
Research Associate, NCHEMS
State Approval page: http://wcet.wiche.edu/advance/state-approval
Twitter: @wcet_info State Approval Hashtag: #stateapp
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NOTE: In August 2011, we published a follow-up blog post that answered some questions that resulted from this posting.
Megan & Russ