Testimony: S. 575, H.1076, June 6, 2013

June 6, 2013

TESTIMONY by Richard J. Doherty, President of AICUM,

Supporting S. 575 and H. 1076, which would amend the college program approval process

Joint Committee on Higher Education


State House – Hearing Room, A-2



Senate Bill No. 575

House Bill No. 1076



Chairman Moore, Chairman Sannicandro, and members of the Committee,


Thank you for the opportunity to offer testimony before you today.  I am here to testify in support of Senate Bill 575 and House Bill 1076, which seek to amend the academic program approval process for non-profit, private colleges in Massachusetts.


My name is Richard Doherty and I am the President of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts (AICUM).


AICUM is comprised of 60 colleges and universities located throughout the Commonwealth – institutions which educate 275,000 students each year and employ more than 84,000 people.


Of our members, approximately 40 are subject to the Board of Higher Education (BHE) program approval requirements.  Some of these colleges were founded over 100 years ago and all have been educating students, conducting innovative research and graduating students in a timely fashion to meet the changing needs of the Massachusetts economy for decades.


What we are asking for in this legislation is not terribly different from what your predecessor legislators did 70 years ago.  That is to recognize the tremendous quality and contributions of our independent colleges and universities and to simply reset the clock from 1943 to 2003.


This bill says that those colleges which have been serving the higher education consuming public very well post-1943 would be relieved of the significant costs, time, and administrative burden associated with the Board of Higher Education’s program approval process.  The current process in many ways mirrors and is redundant to the accreditation process of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which is the federally recognized regional accrediting body for 232 colleges and universities in New England.  This bill would apply to colleges and universities which are located in and have been operating for 10 continuous years within Massachusetts and have earned NEASC accreditation.


The BHE would still retain full authority to apply its program approval regulations to all new colleges and universities, or those founded after 2003, seeking to establish themselves in Massachusetts.  It still maintains BHE’s authority over those colleges on probation with NEASC.  And it explicitly maintains the consumer protection of the BHE with regard to referring consumer complaints to both the Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division and NEASC.


You have already heard from three Presidents and I have numerous letters from representatives of other AICUM members in support of this legislation.  Following my testimony, you will hear from three Provosts or Academic Vice-Presidents from AICUM member colleges, who will make the case that the current process has, over time, become unnecessary and too costly (both to the colleges and the taxpayers) for the diminished public benefit it provides.  The time it takes to go through the process makes it difficult for Massachusetts colleges to compete with colleges in the 44 states which have no approval requirement or virtually no approval requirement for their private colleges.  Some 40 % of our students come from out-of-state.  Our colleges are talent magnets.  As Tuesday’s USA Today highlights, there are colleges all across the country launching new academic programs in developing fields, like cyber security.  Their ability to get those programs up and running quickly and efficiently puts them at a competitive advantage for recruiting talented students over our forty or so colleges which must go through a long and costly approval process.

Examples of states similar to Massachusetts with no approval process include California, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.  In addition, Pennsylvania’s Legislature passed a law in 2012, which was signed by the Governor, to end its program approval process and Connecticut just last week passed legislation that streamlines its process.  Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont have no or little program approval from the states for their private colleges.  As more and more states do away with a program approval requirement for independent colleges, it will be increasingly difficult for Massachusetts’ colleges and universities to compete with like institutions in nearby states that can create new programs responding to student or workforce needs at a faster rate than Massachusetts allows.


As you heard from our Presidents, the program approval process is a very expensive undertaking for our members.  In addition to the enormous costs of creating a new program, colleges subject to program approval are allocating tens of thousands of dollars to the approval process through staff time and out-of-pocket expenses for visiting committees and material preparation.  At a time when colleges’ budgets are already stretched thin and Presidents are working to contain tuition increases, this strikes us as a poor use of valuable resources given that much of this is redundant to existing NEASC processes and consumer protection safeguards.


Finally, I would like to be noted in support of H.1082.  This proposal is a great building block on last year’s successful legislation – first championed by the Chairs of this Committee – that created a matching grant fund for research and innovation.


Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today.  I hope you will report S.575 and H.1076 favorably out of committee.  I am happy to answer any questions at this time.