In its latest threat to the religious liberty and independence of Catholic colleges and universities, the Obama administration has issued new regulations that open the door to possible state intrusion into curriculum, student policies and hiring decisions.
The regulations issued Friday effectively force many states to increase oversight of postsecondary education through state chartering or licensing, which is a necessary condition for colleges to participate in federal student aid programs.
Most Catholic colleges accept low-cost federal student loans and grants. If forced to forego federal aid, these colleges would be at a disadvantage in recruiting students.
“The door is opened for state politicians and bureaucrats who would impose their social agendas on private and religious colleges,” warned Patrick J. Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society.
“Already the Obama administration has seized direct ownership of student loans, and now a college’s eligibility for student loans is subject to the political whims of its state legislators and regulators. Many states have demonstrated callous disregard for the religious identity of Catholic colleges, from mandating
contraceptive coverage in student and employee health plans to requiring employee benefits for same-sex couples.”
Although the Higher Education Act has long required state authorization for a college to participate in federal aid programs, many states do not aggressively monitor colleges and their consent was assumed unless otherwise reported to the U.S. Education Department. The new regulations require state approval of colleges “by name” and a state process “to review and appropriately act on” complaints about any approved institution.
When issuing the regulations Friday, the Education Department acknowledged that it had received complaints from college leaders that “a State’s role may extend into defining, for example, curriculum, teaching methods, subject matter content, faculty qualifications, and learning outcomes.” Others feared that states might “impose homogeneity upon institutions that would compromise their unique missions.”