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Navigating the Changing Regulatory Landscape in Higher Education: Strategies for Compliance and Advocacy

May/June 2022

By Business Officer Staff


The regulatory landscape for higher education is constantly evolving, with new laws and regulations impacting colleges and universities in significant ways. Changes to tax laws, accreditation requirements, and federal funding priorities can have far-reaching implications for institutions, including financial and operational challenges. In order to succeed in this environment, higher education leaders must be aware of the latest regulatory developments and be prepared to adapt quickly to changing requirements. This article will explore some of the key regulatory issues facing higher education today and offer strategies for compliance and advocacy to help institutions navigate this changing landscape.

Changes to Tax Laws

Recent changes to tax laws have had a significant impact on higher education. One of the most significant changes was the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, which resulted in a number of changes to the tax code that affected colleges and universities. One major change was the repeal of the tax-exempt status for advance refunding bonds, which has made it more difficult for institutions to refinance their debt. Additionally, the law placed a new excise tax on certain endowments, which has created new financial burdens for some institutions. Other tax law changes have affected employee benefits and compensation. For example, the law placed a new excise tax on executive compensation above a certain threshold, which has forced some institutions to rethink their compensation policies. The law also eliminated the ability for employees to deduct unreimbursed business expenses, which has affected many employees in higher education who may have previously deducted expenses such as professional development or travel.

Accreditation Requirements

Accreditation is a process by which educational institutions are evaluated for their quality, performance, and effectiveness in meeting certain standards. The accreditation requirements for higher education institutions are set by accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. These requirements are continuously evolving and changing, and colleges and universities must stay up-to-date on the latest standards to maintain their accreditation status.

In recent years, there have been several changes to the accreditation requirements for higher education institutions. For example, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), one of the largest regional accrediting agencies, recently revised its criteria for accreditation to include a greater focus on student success and learning outcomes. The new criteria require institutions to demonstrate how they are meeting the needs of their students and preparing them for success in their careers and in life.

Other accrediting agencies have also made changes to their requirements, such as placing more emphasis on institutional research and assessment, promoting diversity and inclusion, and ensuring the quality of online education programs. These changes can have a significant impact on colleges and universities, as they may require new investments in resources and personnel to meet the new standards.

It is important for higher education finance and administration leaders to be aware of these changes and to work closely with their institutions' accreditation teams to ensure compliance with the latest standards. By doing so, they can help their institutions maintain their accreditation status and ensure the continued success of their students.

Federal Funding Priorities

The federal government plays a significant role in funding higher education in the United States. Changes in federal funding priorities can have a significant impact on colleges and universities, as well as on the students they serve. In recent years, there have been significant shifts in federal funding priorities, with an increasing emphasis on workforce development and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education.

To ensure access to federal funding, colleges and universities must be aware of these shifting priorities and adjust their programs and policies accordingly. For example, institutions may need to develop new programs that align with federal priorities, or they may need to demonstrate the alignment of their existing programs with these priorities. Additionally, institutions may need to develop partnerships with industry or community organizations to meet the workforce development needs of their region.

Navigating the changing federal funding landscape also requires careful attention to compliance with federal regulations and reporting requirements. This includes requirements related to the use of federal funds, reporting on student outcomes, and complying with federal regulations related to civil rights and nondiscrimination.

Overall, staying up-to-date with federal funding priorities and compliance requirements is essential for colleges and universities to successfully navigate the changing regulatory landscape and continue to meet the needs of their students and communities.

Strategies for Compliance and Advocacy

With the constantly evolving regulatory landscape in higher education, it is important for colleges and universities to stay informed and proactive in their compliance efforts. Here are some strategies for navigating regulatory changes and advocating for the needs of your institution:

By staying informed, conducting regular assessments, building relationships with regulators, and leveraging technology, colleges and universities can navigate the changing regulatory landscape and ensure compliance with new laws and regulations.

Challenges and Future Directions

As the regulatory landscape continues to evolve, colleges and universities face ongoing challenges in navigating the complex web of regulations and ensuring compliance. The changing political environment and shifting federal priorities add to the uncertainty, making it difficult to plan for the future. Moreover, the pace of change is accelerating, with new regulations and laws being introduced at an unprecedented rate.

One major challenge is the increasing focus on accountability and transparency, particularly in the areas of student outcomes and financial management. Colleges and universities must demonstrate that they are providing a high-quality education and using resources efficiently and effectively. This requires collecting and analyzing data on student performance and using it to make evidence-based decisions. It also requires a focus on financial sustainability, with institutions being held accountable for their use of public funds.

Another challenge is the need to balance compliance with innovation. While regulations are designed to protect students and ensure that institutions are meeting certain standards, they can also stifle innovation and prevent institutions from experimenting with new approaches to teaching and learning. Colleges and universities must find ways to innovate within the confines of the regulatory framework and advocate for changes that will enable them to better serve their students.

In the future, it is likely that regulatory changes will continue to be a major issue for higher education finance and administration. With the ongoing debate over the value and purpose of higher education, there will likely be continued scrutiny of colleges and universities and increased pressure to demonstrate their relevance and value. At the same time, technological advancements and changing student needs will require institutions to be flexible and adaptable in their approach to education. The key to success will be for institutions to stay informed, be proactive in their approach to compliance, and remain focused on their mission of serving students and advancing knowledge.