U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
OFFICE OF POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION
PUBLIC REGIONAL HEARING ON
Monday, September 29, 2008
9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
80 Washington Street
Providence, Rhode Island
P R O C E E D I N G S
MR. BERGERON: We're going to go ahead and get started. It's 9:00. I'm
happy to be here at the University of Rhode Island. Let me first introduce
myself. I'm David Bergeron. I direct policy for the Office of Postsecondary
Education at the U.S. Department of Education. I know Rhode Island well, having
been born in Providence, and then growing up in Warwick, and then going to the
University of Rhode Island. So, I was happy to have the opportunity to come and
have one of our hearings here at the University of Rhode Island.
I'm glad we're here in Providence. I love Kingston, but Providence has--is
a lot more convenient for folks, particularly from other institutions. I want to
thank Bob Cruthers and Andrea Hopkins and everybody else at the University of
Rhode Island who made it possible for us to be here. And let me take a minute
and I'll introduce my colleagues.
I'll start with Sophia McArdle, who I think you met as you came in. If you
didn’t see her and sign up to testify, you can do that at any time during the
Right now, we are--have people signed up for the whole morning, and we
will be looking for people to sign up for the afternoon. And it's possible we
may have some time, still, this morning, depending on how the schedule goes. You
never quite know when people sign up how long they'll really speak for. So, we
can see what we do have in terms of time at the end of the day. So, see Sophia
if you want to do that.
With me on the Panel is Kay Gilcher. Kay is on my staff and is an Education Programs Specialist, and particularly knowledgeable in areas like
distance learning. And you probably have seen her name if you follow issues
around distance learning or accreditation or those kinds of things--a great
asset to us.
Also with me on the Panel is Sally Warner. Sally is in our Office of General Counsel. When we do these things, we like to have our lawyers along.
They help us keep on track and make sure we do things correctly.
This is a part of an important process for us as we begin to think about the regulations that we will develop coming out of the Higher Education
Opportunity Act of 2008. That Act makes substantial changes to nearly every
program in the Higher Education Act, as well as extending those programs. It's
not a minor set of changes. In some programs, there are just tinkerings, but in
others, you know, it's wholesale rewrites, and I know that some of you are going
to be talking about some of those program areas where there are substantial
rewriting that has occurred.
We will be having additional hearings after this one here. We have four. We did have our first hearing at Texas Christian University on the 19th of
September. The hearing transcript for that hearing is already available on the
Department's Web site.
We have a Web site specifically for the implementation of the Higher Education Opportunities Act, which is WWW.ED.GOV/HEOA. That Web site will be
where we post the hearing transcripts, and then the follow-up activities related
to the implementation of the Higher Education Opportunity Act.
After we complete our hearings, we will take some time and make some decisions about what kinds of regulatory activity we will be undertaking, and
what the specific timeframes are.
We will then publish a notice in the Federal Register, which will announce the committees that we will be creating and soliciting nominations for people to
serve on those negotiating committees. And it's expected that that process will
likely begin early in next calendar year. We may do the notice. We may solicit
people to serve as non-federal negotiators before the end of the year, but the
negotiations themselves will likely begin sometime next year.
With that, I will see if Kay or Sally have anything they would like to add. Otherwise, we'll go ahead and have the first person come and testify. Ed Comeau.
And if I mispronounce names, please let me know. We do have a sign interpreter with us today. If anyone needs her services, please let us know. Otherwise, she'll sit down for a little while. Okay? Go ahead, Ed.
MR. COMEAU: Thank you for the opportunity to be here this morning. My name
is Ed Comeau. I'm the publisher of Campus Firewatch, which I've done since 2000. I'm also the former Director and founding Director of the Center for Campus Fire Safety. I am also the former Chief Fire Investigator for the National Fire Protection Association, who are investigating a number of campus-related fires. And I also wrote the chapters for the current and the previous handbook, NFPA Handbook, on campus fire safety.
The reason I'm here today is that in the Higher Education Opportunity Act
are provisions from the Campus Fire Safety Right to Know Act, which were first introduced in 2000 in Congress. At that time and since then I've had the opportunity to work with the legislators who introduced that to try to get it moving through Congress. What these will do is require colleges and universities to report fire safety information and make it publicly available, that'll include how many fires they have on campuses, how many people have been injured or killed by these fires, how much damage they've caused and how many beds are protected by sprinklers and fire alarm systems, and also how much fire education they're providing to the students and the staff.
This legislation was born out of the tragic fire in 2000 at St. Helens
University that killed three students, and since that time we've documented about 130 people have been killed at campuses across the country. A vast majority of them happened off-campus, but a number of them have also happened in residence halls and Greek housing.
What makes this so important is the fact that it does call, for example,
for the inclusion of education--reporting how much education they're providing to students on fire safety, which can be absolutely instrumental in making a change when it comes to losing the lives of students across the country, either on-campus or off-campus.
The reason I'm here today is to try to make sure and emphasize the
importance of this legislation. It was a long time coming. We have had a lot of support on it--both bipartisan support--we've had the support of national organizations across the country, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Firefighters, the International Association of State Fire Marshals. I can go on and on. There are a lot of organizations there that did support this legislation that finally was signed into law this year.
Coincidentally, on the heels of this, too, I believe today the Senate is also debating legislation--the Stephanie Tubbs Jones College Fire Prevention Act
that passed the House already and is now--looks like it's going to pass the
Senate as well--that'll provide grants for colleges and universities to install
sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, and provide other systems, too.
So, it's kind of nice that these go hand-in-hand with one another. The first one's only a reporting, but also there's the possibility of funding coming
out as well in terms of matching grants that help colleges and universities.
So, I'd really like to emphasize the importance of this legislation. It's been a long time coming, a lot of people are supporting, and as the regulation
phase goes forward, we'd really like to make sure that the intent of the law was
carried through in terms of the regulation phase, and certainly Campus Firewatch,
myself, and the other people that I work with a lot across the country are more
than happy to work with the Department of Education in helping to craft these
regulations. With that, that's my statement here for you today.
MR. BERGERON: Thank you very much.
MR. COMEAU: Thank you.
MR. BERGERON: Caroline Aspinwall.
MS. ASPINWALL: I really appreciate the opportunity today to be able to
share with you some of the wonderful things Rhode Island has done.
I'm Caroline Aspinwall. I'm the Director of Special Services at the East Bay Collaborative, and I'm providing information today on behalf of the Rhode
Island Transition Academies here in Rhode Island, and on behalf of the Rhode
Island Transition Centers here in Rhode Island. We have five such Centers in the
state. They are a unique situation here in Rhode Island, and we're concerned and
want to provide information about Section 769, The Model Comprehensive
Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Disabilities.
For about six years now, we've developed and operated these innovative programs for students with disabilities on our college campuses, and fortunately,
today, we've also brought some alumni students who have actually completed these
programs on the college campuses with us today, and they'll be able to share
their success with you as well. Rhode Island is the only state in New England
that has successfully secured cooperative funding between our school districts,
between the Office of Rehab Services, and the Division of Developmental
Disabilities in funding programs for students on college campuses, and before
they graduate high school. So, this is a unique program.
We call these programs Transition Academies. Presently Salve Regina
University, CCRI in Warwick, Roger Williams University, and Johnson and Wales have participated in these unique programs.
The programs are for students 18 to 21. They are for students who need one
more year to transition--to get ready for adulthood. These are opportunities for kids in age-appropriate settings. So, we are thrilled--when you look at Section 769, you see, it was almost written just for us. And if you look at those programs, it's exactly what we've been doing here in Rhode Island. So, we are thrilled, and when this passed, I think there were phone calls going around, screaming, how this can open up doors and continue our success here.
Students are able, through these programs, to access college courses,
develop social skills that they weren't able to do in high school, and receive job training. All of our students leave these programs either matriculated at the college level, whether at--it was at the program they were at--or a different college. They have jobs. They are ready for adult life. We are thrilled. We've been around to different venues, whether they were national or local, speaking about these programs. We've had several states that are interesting in repeating these models, replicating these model programs.
We are concerned, however, and this is our point to be here today, is that,
as we look at grants that are going to be funded through this initiative, that there are certain pieces or elements that are added to those regulations. We are concerned that colleges and universities who create these programs have the appropriate partnerships with agencies around their state, national agencies. Some of those--and I will provide you with written testimony today so that you can have that list of the key players. We want to make sure that colleges and universities, when creating these programs, include parents in the development, that they include the Office of Secondary Education, that they make partnerships with the offices of career and technical education in their state, and association of higher education, workforce development, which would be the Department of Labor and Training in any state, the Office of Rehabilitation, independent living centers, state agencies for mental health for developmental disabilities, behavioral health, adolescent health issues, child protection agencies, Department of Children, Youth, and Families, and private nonprofits who truly have a track record in providing these programs for students with disabilities.
We are also concerned that these projects have a clear plan for
sustainability. The only way these programs are successful, and how we've been able to make them successful, is to make them part of the campus. The college
must own the program. They must be able to accredit the program. They must be
able to provide some certificate of completion for those programs. Without a
tangible certificate, students will leave with no job opportunities. They will
not be able to fund their participation in the program. Right now, most of our
programs are funded through a cooperative effort from our school districts who
pay tuition and from our Office of Rehab Services. It's a very unique
arrangement. But when we look at maybe expanding those programs to look at a
certificate program for students, it really needs to be part of that college
experience. The college needs to own it, and we need to open up avenues for
financial support for those kids.
They have to be given all access to all the resources on the campus. The
course should be listed in their bulletin, course bulletin, and they should
receive a certificate, and financial aid is a must. Without that, students will-
-families will not be able to access such programs.
So, we leave you today with the thought that we are in a position, I think,
in Rhode Island, to be a model for the rest of the country. And I think that
we'd like to be represented on maybe a rulemaking committee as a state with
experience and a proven track record for the last seven years of what we've done.
So, I thank you for your time.
MR. BERGERON: Thank you. Kyle Wilbur.
MR. WILBUR: Here I am.
MR. BERGERON: How are you this morning?
MR. WILBUR: Oh, fine.
MR. BERGERON: Good, good. Thank you for coming.
MR. WILBUR: Oh, you're welcome. Is this thing on? Testing one, two, three.
Okay. Mr. Chairman and members of the Board, my name is Kyle Matthew Wilbur, and
I live in Barrington, Rhode Island. I'm here representing myself and the many
other students who struggle in high school and would like to have some of the
same choices as others students, such as to be able to go to college and take
classes and to have a job with a paycheck.
I support Sections 767, 768, and 769--let me see if I got that right--767,
768, and 769--yeah, I got that--of the Higher Education Opportunity Act.
The Rhode Island Transition Academy opened many doors for me, like to be
on a college campus and take classes with other students--you know, kids--folks
my own age--such as life--to try out different jobs. I've had a lot of jobs.
I've had quite a few jobs over the years. Of course, I've had the same job at
Ace Hardware for four years. To think, at the beginning I never even got paid
for it. Now, I'm getting paid for it. It also taught me how to ride the public
buses, and successfully learn the bus system, and also told me how to speak up
for myself and give me some independence. I would like this community to open
the doors for other students like myself, so please give this federal money to
the State of Rhode Island for the Transition Academy. I'm not sure if you guys
have a good sense of humor, but I'll read it, anyway. As Porky Pig would say,
"That's all, folks."
MR. WILBUR: You know, they do have a sense of humor. Thank you, and thank
you for letting me speak today.
MR. BERGERON: Thank you.
MR. WILBUR: Yeah, don't mention it.
MR. BERGERON: Barbara Brittingham, please. Good morning, Barbara.
MS. BRITTINGHAM: Good morning. That's a tough act to follow. That was very
good. Good morning. My name is Barbara Brittingham, and I am the Director and
President of the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New
England Association of Schools and Colleges. We're the regional accrediting
agency for over 240 colleges and universities in the six New England states, and
the Commission has been continuously recognized by the Secretary of Education
since that process began.
We're a member of C-RAC, the Council of Regional Accrediting Agencies, the group that links and coordinates the seven regional accrediting commissions in
the six regions. Collectively, these commissions oversee the accreditation of
approximately 3,000 colleges and universities that serve more than 17 million
students throughout our country. Through C-RAC, regional accreditation has
strengthened and aligned our efforts in a variety of areas, including distance
learning and assessment.
On behalf of the Commission and C-RAC, thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning. The renewal of the Higher Education Act was a long and
complex process. During that time, regional accreditation has continued to
evolve and now reflects many of the changes in the law. We're pleased that there
will not be further regulation regarding the standards an accrediting agency
uses with respect to academic quality.
Further, we believe that some of the new provisions of the law are clearly stated, and will not require further regulation, such as the requirement that
institutions make publicly available their transfer of credit policy, including
the criteria established by the institution, and that accreditors confirm this
matter. With respect to regulation, I wish to make four additional points. One,
participation. We ask that the Department include regional accreditors at the table of negotiated rulemaking on any matters related to accreditation. The members of C-RAC stand ready to be helpful and active participation in the negotiated rulemaking process, and to work formally and informally with the Department of Education throughout this process.
Two, distance education. We urge the Department to tread carefully on
regulating the requirement that accreditors verify that institutions have measures in place to ensure that students enrolled in distance education are the ones doing the work and receiving the credit. While institutions must assume these responsibilities of academic integrity, we concur with WCET that good pedagogical practices must be at the heart of any effort to meet this requirement of the law. We note that the report language did not intend that a certain type of technology be specified as required, at least at this time, and we believe that this aspect of the law should be implemented in a way that does not represent a cost burden to institutions or students.
Third, due process. The law includes considerable new language in this
regard, [with] most of the requirements already being met by regional accreditors. We urge a light touch in regulating the due process requirements. Clearly, institutions appealing the denial or termination of accreditation deserve a careful process; their rights must be protected. But accreditors do not make such decisions lightly or casually, and the appeal process should not become lengthy, burdensome, or expensive. We know that our member institutions are already concerned about the cost to them in implementing the requirements of the Higher Education Act, and we ask the regulations around due process in an accreditation denial or termination not add to that collective cost. We are also concerned about time. We must not have so many stringent process protections that we lose our ability to take decisive action to protect the best interests of students and their families when we find wrongdoing or a clear failure to meet one or more of our standards.
Fourth, transfer of credit. We would note that the new law requires
accreditors to confirm that an institution has transfer of credit policies that are publicly disclosed and include a statement of the criteria established by the institution. These provisions give clear direction to institutions and accreditors, and we do not believe they need to be further refined in the regulatory process.
We look forward to working with the Department of Education as we fulfill
our responsibilities as a recognized, reliable authority on the quality of education under the regulations that respect the intentions of the Congress, and
do not place undue regulation on either accreditation or institutions of higher
education. Thank you very much.
MR. BERGERON: Thank you, Barbara. Jill Wilbur. You sure you want to do
MS. WILBUR: I don't know if I can even keep up with him. But Mr. Chairman
and members of the Committee, my name is Jill Wilbur, and I live in Barrington,
Rhode Island. I'm here representing our son, Kyle, who has developmental
disabilities, as well as other young people with comparable challenges who
struggle to find postsecondary programs, educational or vocational development
and opportunities so they can further their development. I wholeheartedly
support Sections 767, 768, and 769 of the Higher Education Opportunity Act.
Our son Kyle attended the Rhode Island Transition Academy that was located at Salve Regina University in Newport. Quite simply, this program gave him wings.
The Rhode Island Transition Academy afforded Kyle with a postsecondary
environment that allowed him to experience real life situations. On a level of
job and career exploration, Kyle applied his computer skills he gained through
the courses at Salve, and developed a basic resume for possible employment.
Furthermore, upon obtaining this non-paying job, as he mentioned, at Ace Hardware in Newport, over the past few years, he has transitioned that
opportunity into a part-time, independent, hourly paying position with the same
employer. He has also enhanced and developed his abilities to interact in--
appropriately with his fellow employees and supervisors. On a second academic
note, Kyle has developed a wonderful relationship with one of his professors at
Salve Regina. He's had the opportunity to audit a number of her courses, and is
currently enrolled at one at this moment.
Kyle's desire and willingness to participate in this venue has rewarded him with age-appropriate peer interactions and involving social skills that
complement his educational experience. The logistics of transportation from
Barrington to Newport were addressed by the Rhode Island Transition Academy,
thus enabling him to successfully navigate the RIPTA bus system. And like so
many other life experiences, this has been a process of evolution rather than
The State of Rhode Island has, over the past several years, been the beneficiary of local communities funding these model programs. And, given their
success and our programs have demonstrated, I believe that additional federal
funding should be given to the State of Rhode Island to ensure that this
continued level of achievement is afforded by these programs. Only through our
perseverance and vigilance can we actually provide the tools necessary for these
individuals, fellow citizens, to truly embrace their potential for a full life,
a degree of liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I would like this Committee to embrace this opportunity that is being afforded to these individuals by expressing their support for the aforementioned
programs. Thank you for this opportunity to speak.
MR. BERGERON: Thank you.
MR. BERGERON: Ms. Miller. Good morning.
MS. MILLER: Hi. My name is Megan Miller, and I'm one of the alumni from
the Rhode Island Transition Academy. What the Rhode Island Transition Academy
has done for me is so much that I can't even--if I start to talk about how much
it's done for me, you guys would be sitting there tapping your fingers on the
table because you would probably be so bored of hearing me talk about it.
But I've grown up a lot with it. When I was in high school, high school wasn't that good, junior high school wasn't, and grade school wasn't, because
I've gotten made fun of and teased a lot. When I was at CCRI with the Rhode
Island Transition Academy for the two years that I was, I never got made fun of
once, And that was, like, a big break for me. Like, finally, because I've gone
through a lot. And we'd go to an apartment, we'd rent one, and doing that is a
fun experience. We get to cook. We get to learn how to clean. We get to budget
money, learn how to do math--all different kinds of stuff. And one of my
favorite things was we got to go to IKEA and we got to pretend that we had
$1,000, and we got to make our own room. And that made me feel like I was
regular college student, like, getting to find, "Oh, I would like that if I had
a dorm." "Oh, let's go over here and see what's over there," you know? And it
was really, really, really fun. And it's a really good program. I mean, I don't
know that--I don't know any other programs that are like the Rhode Island
Transition Academy that are out there. I mean, my mom and I and my dad have a
time--well, you know, for programs, and that's the one that we chose, and I'm
glad I chose it.
And kids who have what I have--Williams Syndrome--only one in 25,000 people have it. It's a rare genetic disorder. And sometimes we tend to be over-
social--sometimes--and they've helped me to kind of lower it a little so I can
go to different places and not act too over-social.
And when I was with them, I got to do a lot of job opportunities and go to different places, and I volunteered at a nursing home doing--being the
activities assistant, and I had the best time of my life over there. The people