January 23, 2019

Bill gives private colleges parity in state's degree program approval process

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
Senate leaders Martin Looney (D-New Haven, left) and Len Fasano (R-North Haven), at work.

A proposed bill in the state Senate would make permanent legislation that temporarily exempts most independent higher-education institutions from seeking state approval before introducing new programs.

The proposed legislation was introduced by Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, and co-sponsored by Republican state Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano.

Under state law, private colleges and universities are required to receive approval from the state Office of Higher Education (OHE) before introducing new programs. But schools that fit certain criteria -- are accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, have operated in the state for at least 10 years, and are able to receive federal financial aid-- are currently exempt from that approval requirement for up to 12 programs per year. That exemption sunsets in 2020.

The proposed bill would make that exemption permanent. This issue is a significant one for the higher-ed industry because schools are battling for what's expected to be a shrinking student population. As a result, the need to develop new degree programs that adapt to a rapidly changing job market is paramount.

Neither Looney nor Fasano were immediately available for comment Wednesday morning.

Jennifer Widness, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges who has lobbied for changes to current program-approval requirements for private schools, said in an email that the legislation would be a positive development.

"As a proposed bill we are still awaiting actual language for this legislation but certainly we would support a bill that would make our exemption from program approval by the Office of Higher Education permanent," Widness said.

Prior to 2013, the state required OHE program approval for every college, public and private. But lawmakers that year passed a law that streamlined the approval process and removed public colleges from OHE's program-approval purview.

Two years later, the legislature approved a bill that would have also exempted private schools from the added oversight, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who cited discomfort in relaxing the regulations.

Since then, private colleges have successfully lobbied for a temporary exemption that caps at 12 the number of new programs the schools can introduce without state approval.

The bill proposing to make the exemptions permanent was referred to the Joint Committee on Higher Education and Employment Advancement on Jan. 15.

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