Out of concern for the rise of for-profit colleges and vocational educational programs, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has issued a ruling directing states to implement a licensing process for private colleges.
The government's actions came after public concerns that some of these for-profit colleges were selling students a shoddy product, as their credentials showed little worth in the job market. An unintended consequence of the DOE ruling, however, is that it also could lead to greater regulation of Christian colleges and universities by state governments.
Christian colleges are concerned that the licensing process would provide an avenue through which states could regulate the content of their education. Christian colleges integrate faith and learning into their curriculum, according to Shapri LoMaglio, government relations and executive programs officer for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). CCCU is concerned, therefore, that state governments could use the licensing procedure to interfere with their faith-based curriculum.
For-profit colleges, including Christian ones, receive much of their income from federal education grants and student loans backed by the federal government.
In a September 20, 2010 editorial for The Denver Post, Colorado Christian University President Bill Armstrong and Hank Brown, former president of the University of Northern Colorado, wrote, “As a practical matter, the department's power grab carries with it an implicit invitation for various pressure groups to seek legal mandates requiring colleges and universities to implement their pet theories about curriculum, degree requirements, faculty qualifications, teaching methods, textbooks, evolution, phonics, ROTC, climate change, family policy, abortion, race, sexual orientation, economic theory, etc.”
The DOE's ruling provides a religious exemption, but for a Christian college to receive the exemption, it must only provide religious classes. Since Christian colleges and universities provide a full range of courses in social sciences, languages, humanities, and physical sciences, for instance, none would qualify for the exemption, according to LoMaglio. If states would want to provide a broader religious exemption, they would not be allowed under the DOE ruling.
The DOE's ruling is a “complete intrusion into the institutional autonomy” of Christian colleges and universities, added LoMaglio. CCCU has contacted the DOE several times, and many Christian college presidents have personally contacted their representatives in Congress and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to express their concerns about the issue.
In response to the DOE ruling, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-Va.) introduced a bill, H.R. 2117, that would prevent the DOE from implementing its state mandated licensing requirements. LoMaglio noted that the bill passed out of committee with bipartisan support and has a good chance of passage on the House floor. Senate passage will be more difficult, admits LoMaglio, but she remains optimistic.