Before Your Start Your School
The demand in certain fields creates an opportunity for education entrepreneurs to establish training and academic institutions that can support workforce needs as well as economic advancement for underserved communities. There are states that are more welcoming than others with specific requirements for schools based on their legal status. Further, with the ongoing changes in higher education regulations and policies, these external factors must be accounted for during the school development phase. Before you seek approval from any state.
Summarized below are four key considerations that should be reviewed and researched as part of your due diligence. These areas are not comprehensive and should be considered along with other factors as you navigate the process.
Plan and Create with the End in Mind
Understanding where you would like to go (academically and structurally) will help frame how you create the school. Beyond the business plan which may be required by the State Department of Education, think about your institutional goals – would you like to focus only in one program area (allied health, Nursing, business) or expand to include a wide range of programs (trades, business, art, and design). What about credential levels? Are you interested in only vocational, non-degree, skills-building programs? Or would you like to offer credentials all the way up to a practitioner-based doctorate? Is Distance Education a delivery method you would like to include in your initial application or add later? These questions are important because they will help determine how you structure the school and your future growth plans. For example, some states do not allow for changes during their initial approval phase. Additions or changes may require additional requests for approvals and be more time-consuming and expensive. If you want to offer distance education nationally (within the US), approval from MOST states will be required in addition to your state of authorization.
Explore Accreditation Options that align with your goals
Many owners/founders make the mistake of thinking that they do not have to “worry” about accreditation when they are starting off. That is a mistake because there are states that require accreditation (institutional and/or programmatic) within a specific time following approval. For example, Florida requires that institutions that offer pre-licensure RN programs achieve specialized accreditation within five (5) years of the first start. See FLBON. In order to get specialized accreditation, the institution must first be institutionally accredited by an agency recognized by the US Department of Education. It gets even more nuanced because not all federally-recognized agencies are approved by the specialized accreditor – specifically, TRACS is not approved by ACEN (ACEN has its own list of approved accreditors and eligibility requirements described in Policy #3) so an institution that pursues and achieves TRACS would still not be able to get ACEN accreditation. Virginia requires that new degree granting schools achieve full accreditation by an accrediting agency recognized by the US Department of Education in six (6) years from time of initial approval (SCHEV). In addition to these state timeframes, accreditation influences institutional growth in many ways, including but not limited to, attracting students, providing financial assistance options through state and federal programs, and getting approval to participate in the State Authorization and Reciprocity Agreement (NC-SARA) which impacts distance education across states.
Distance Education – Know before You Go that route
Distance Education provides for cost-effective delivery of education, especially for a new school. However, as noted above, this area is getting increasingly regulated and ignorance is not bliss. Here is a summary of changes from 2019. More recently, the Department of Education is considering additional changes in 2024 through Negotiated Rule-Making procedures. While distance education is one “way of education” for the future, the regulatory environment in the US continues to change and staying on top of those changes is the institution’s responsibility to ensure compliance.
Comply from the Start
As noted above, the ability to grow and grow WELL, will likely require getting accreditation. Even if federal financial aid is not of interest, there are some banks which require that institutions demonstrate they are eligible for financial aid to allow students to take personal loans (this is a client’s experience so may be anecdotal but worth sharing). Institutions can get approval to participate in the student visa program (SEVP through DHS) without accreditation but doing so includes securing agreements with accredited schools – a difficult fit without accreditation and credibility.
Understand compliance requirements from the beginning so that you can create a culture and system of compliance. This includes the curriculum, faculty qualifications, recording keeping and administrative processes, assessment and student achievement outcomes, institutional capacity, and resources. Knowing the accreditation options that align with your needs will help facilitate a better framework for complying AND creating a structure that can be systematized. (Article on Choosing an Accreditor is forthcoming). The headache and frustration that will be spared overall cannot be understated.
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