Postsecondary institutions’ minimum standard requirements advanced

Senators advanced a bill April 7 that would create minimum operation standards for private and out-of-state postsecondary institutions.

York Sen. Greg Adams introduced LB637, a bill containing the Postsecondary Institution Act. An Education Committee amendment, adopted 38-0, replaced the original provisions with a revised version of the act. It would require the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education to establish minimum standard requirements and levels of operations, establish rules and regulations, review applications for postsecondary institutions and investigate violators of the bill. Any private postsecondary career school or institution that is regulated by a federal agency would be exempt from the bill.

Under the amended bill, if the commission finds that a postsecondary institution has violated the rules and regulations the institution’s authorization to operate could be suspended or revoked.

Also included in the amendment are provisions of two bills that were originally introduced by Adams. The provisions of LB372 would enable the University of Nebraska to offer certificates in additional fields upon approval from the commission if the preponderance of the courses comprising any such certificate are above associate-degree level. The provisions of LB58 would require a study of the need for uniform policies and practices regarding dual-enrollment courses and career academies.

Adams said the bill would streamline and clarify regulations for postsecondary institutions that want to come into the state in order to provide consumer protections.

“The process that we currently have in law has not kept the pace at which different types of higher institutions have tried to enter into states,” he said. “If a postsecondary institution of some kind wants to operate in our state, we [need to] have some approval methodologies.”

Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms spoke in support of the amendment, saying it provides clarification and appropriate oversight that is needed in the for-profit sector of higher education. Operation standards have not been revised much since the 1970’s, he said, and the for-profit sector has grown significantly since then.

Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher opposed the amendment, saying it only would regulate postsecondary colleges with a physical presence in the state. He questioned whether it also would regulate online colleges.

“We are treading on areas that have not been defined [in this bill],” Schumacher said. “We are dealing in dangerous territory when we try and regulate information when we are not clear about what we are trying to stop them from doing.”

An Avery amendment, adopted 38-0, would set provisions for the allocation of the Education Innovation Fund and would give the state Department of Education $160,000 to implement a three-year pilot project in participating school districts for the administration of a standard college admission test for 11th grade students beginning in fiscal year 2011-12.

Avery said 75 percent of students in the state currently take the ACT. Many students do not take a college entrance test because they think they cannot afford to go to college, he said, so requiring them to take the test may give them a “boost of confidence” and make them eligible for scholarships.

“If this pilot program does what we hope it will do, it will increase the test-taking rate throughout the state and we think it will have an impact on the college-going rate,” Avery said.

The bill was advanced from general file on a 40-1 vote.

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