Administrative Code

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Virginia Administrative Code
Title 8. Education
Agency 40. State Council Of Higher Education For Virginia
Chapter 31. Regulations Governing Certification of Certain Institutions to Confer Degrees, Diplomas and Certificates
5/6/2021

8VAC40-31-160. Certification criteria for all postsecondary schools.

A. The criteria in this section shall apply to all postsecondary schools for which certification is required. With regard to postsecondary schools that are accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, the council may apply a presumption of compliance with criteria in this section if the school has complied with an accreditation standard directed to the same subject matter as the criteria. The council need not apply this presumption if the accreditation standard is deficient in satisfying an identifiable goal of the council. The council shall articulate reasons that the accreditation standard is deficient.

B. The postsecondary school shall have a clear, accurate, and comprehensive written statement, which shall be available to the public upon request. The statement minimally shall include the following items:

1. The history and development of the postsecondary school;

2. An identification of any persons, entities, or institutions that have a controlling ownership or interest in the postsecondary school;

3. The purpose of the postsecondary school, including a statement of the relative degree of emphasis on instruction, research, and public service as well as a statement demonstrating that the school's proposed offerings are consistent with its stated purpose;

4. A description of the postsecondary school's activities, including telecommunications activities away from its principal location, and a list of all program areas in which courses are offered away from the principal location;

5. A list of all locations in Virginia at which the postsecondary school offers courses and a list of the degree and nondegree programs currently offered or planned to be offered in Virginia;

6. For each Virginia location, and for the most recent academic year, the total number of students who were enrolled as well as the total number and percentage of students who were enrolled in each program offered;

7. For each Virginia location, the total number of students who completed or graduated from the school as of the end of the last academic year and the total number and percentage of students who completed or graduated from each program offered by the school as of the end of the last academic year; and

8. For unaccredited institutions of higher education and career-technical schools only, the total number of students who report employment in their field of study within (i) six months of completion or graduation and (ii) one year of completion or graduation.

C. The postsecondary school or branch shall have a current, written document available to students and the general public upon request that accurately states the powers, duties, and responsibilities of:

1. The governing board or owners of the school;

2. The chief operating officer, president, or director at that branch in Virginia;

3. The principal administrators and their credentials at that branch in Virginia; and

4. The students, if students participate in school governance.

D. The postsecondary school shall have, maintain, and provide to all applicants a policy document accurately defining the minimum requirements for eligibility for admission to the school and for acceptance at the specific degree level or into all specific degree programs offered by the postsecondary school that are relevant to the school's admissions standards. In addition, the document shall explain:

1. The standards for academic credit or course completion given for experience;

2. The criteria for acceptance of transfer credit where applicable;

3. The criteria for refunds of tuition and fees;

4. Students' rights, privileges, and responsibilities; and

5. The established grievance process of the school, which shall indicate that students should follow this process and may contact council staff to file a complaint about the school as a last resort. The written policy shall include a provision that students will not be subjected to adverse actions by any school officials as a result of initiating a complaint.

E. The postsecondary school shall maintain records on all enrolled students. At a minimum, these records shall include:

1. Each student's application for admission and admissions records containing information regarding the educational qualifications of each regular student admitted that are relevant to the postsecondary school's admissions standards. Each student record must reflect the requirements and justification for admission of the student to the postsecondary school. Admissions records must be maintained by the school, its successors, or its assigns for a minimum of three years after the student's last date of attendance.

2. An original agreement titled "Student Enrollment Agreement" signed by the student and an authorized representative of the school. The use of electronic signatures is permissible so long as the use complies with the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (§ 59.1-479 et seq. of the Code of Virginia).

a. (Reserved.)

b. (Reserved.)

c. No postsecondary school shall condition the enrollment of a student on:

(1) Entering into an agreement that requires the student to arbitrate any dispute between the student and the school, regardless of whether the agreement permits the student to opt out of the requirement to arbitrate any such dispute in the future; or

(2) Entering into an agreement that requires the student to resolve a dispute on an individual basis and waive the right to class or group actions.

3. A transcript of the student's academic or course work at the school, which shall be retained permanently in either hard copy forms or in an electronic database with backup by the school, its successors, or its assigns.

4. A record of student academic or course progress at the school including programs of study, dates of enrollment, courses taken and completed, grades, and indication of the student's current status (graduated, probation, etc.) must be retained permanently. Any changes or alterations to student records must be accurately documented and signed by an appropriate school official.

5. A record of all financial transactions between each individual student and the school including payments from the student, payments from other sources on the student's behalf, and refunds. Fiscal records must be maintained for a minimum of three years after the student's last date of attendance. When tuition and fees are paid by the student in installments, a clear disclosure of truth-in-lending statement must be provided to and signed by the student.

6. The school shall make the documents referenced in subdivisions 1 through 4 of this subsection available to the student upon request. Academic transcripts shall be provided upon request if the student is in good financial standing.

F. Each school shall provide or make available to students, prospective students, and other interested persons a catalog, bulletin, brochure, or electronic media containing, at a minimum, the following information:

1. The number of students enrolled in each program offered.

2. For each Virginia location, the total number of students who completed or graduated from the school as of the end of the last academic year and the total number and percentage of students who completed or graduated from each program offered by the school as of the end of the last academic year.

3. A description of any financial aid offered by the school including repayment obligations, standards of academic progress required for continued participation in the program, sources of loans or scholarships, the percentage of students receiving federal financial aid (if applicable) and the average student indebtedness at graduation.

4. A broad description, including academic or career-technical objectives of each program offered, the number of hours of instruction in each subject and total number of hours required for course completion, course descriptions, and a statement of the type of credential awarded.

5. A statement of tuition and fees and other charges related to enrollment, such as deposits, fees, books and supplies, tools and equipment, and any other charges for which a student may be responsible.

6. The school's refund policy for tuition and fees pursuant to subsection N of this section.

7. The school's procedures for handling complaints, including procedures to ensure that a student will not be subject to unfair actions as a result of his initiation of a complaint proceeding.

8. The name and address of the school's accrediting body, if applicable.

9. The minimum requirements for satisfactory completion of each degree level and degree program, or nondegree certificates or diplomas.

10. A statement that accurately describes the transferability of any courses.

11. A statement that accurately represents the transferability of any diplomas, certificates, or degrees offered by the school.

12. If the institution offers programs leading to the Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Occupational Science degree, a statement that these programs are terminal occupational or technical programs and that credits generally earned in these programs are not applicable to other degrees.

13. The academic or course work schedule for the period covered by the publication.

14. A statement that accurately details the type and amount of career advising and placement services offered by the school.

15. The name, location, and address of the main campus, branch, or instructional site operating in Virginia.

G. The school must have a clearly defined process by which the curriculum is established, reviewed, and evaluated. Evaluation of school effectiveness must be completed on a regular basis and must include:

1. An explanation of how each program is consistent with the mission of the school.

2. An explanation of the written process for evaluating each degree level and program, or career-technical program, once initiated and an explanation of the procedures for assessing the extent to which the educational goals are being achieved.

3. Documented use of the results of these evaluations to improve the degree and career-technical programs offered by the school.

H. Pursuant to § 23-276.3 B of the Code of Virginia, the school must maintain records that demonstrate it is financially sound; exercises proper management, financial controls and business practices; and can fulfill its commitments for education or training. The school's financial resources should be characterized by stability, which indicates the school is capable of maintaining operational continuity for an extended period of time. The stability indicator that will be used is the USDOE Financial Ratio (composite score).

1. Institutions of higher education shall provide the results of an annual audited, reviewed or compiled financial statement. Career-technical schools shall provide the results of an annual audited, reviewed or compiled financial statement or the school may elect to provide financial information on forms provided by council staff. The financial report shall be prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) currently in effect. The financial report shall cover the most recent annual accounting period completed.

2. The USDOE composite score range is -1.0 to 3.0. Schools with a score of 1.5 to 3.0 meet fully the stability requirement in subsection I of this section; scores between 1.0 and 1.4 meet the minimum expectations; and scores less than 1.0 do not meet the requirement and shall be immediately considered for audit.

I. Pursuant to § 23-276.3 B of the Code of Virginia, the school shall have and maintain a surety instrument issued by a surety company or banking institution authorized to transact business in Virginia that is adequate to provide refunds to students for the unearned non-Title IV portion of tuition and fees for any given semester, quarter or term and to cover the administrative cost associated with the instrument claim. The instrument shall be based on the non-Title IV funds that have been received from students or agencies for which the education has not yet been delivered. This figure shall be indicated in an audited financial statement as a Current (non-Title IV) Tuition Liability. A school certified under this regulation shall be exempt from the surety instrument requirement if it can demonstrate a USDOE composite financial responsibility score of 1.5 or greater on its current financial statement; or if it can demonstrate a composite score between 1.0 and 1.4 on its current financial statement and has scored at least 1.5 on a financial statement in either of the prior two years. The school's eligibility for the surety waiver shall be determined annually, at the time of recertification.

1. Public postsecondary schools originating in a state other than Virginia that are operating a branch campus or instructional site in the Commonwealth of Virginia are exempt from the surety bond requirement.

2. New schools and unaccredited existing schools must complete at least five calendar years of academic instruction or certification to qualify for the surety waiver or exemption.

3. Existing schools seeking a waiver of the surety instrument requirement must submit an audited financial statement for the most recent fiscal year end that reflects the appropriate composite score as indicated in this subsection.

J. The school shall have a current written policy on faculty accessibility that shall be distributed to all students. The school shall ensure that instructional faculty are accessible to students for academic or course advising at stated times outside a course's regularly scheduled class hours at each branch and throughout the period during which the course is offered.

K. All recruitment personnel must provide prospective students with current and accurate information on the school through the use of written and electronic materials and in oral admissions interviews:

1. The school shall be responsible and liable for the acts of its admissions personnel.

2. No school, agent, or admissions personnel shall knowingly make any statement or representation that is false, inaccurate or misleading regarding the school.

L. All programs offered via telecommunications or distance education must be comparable in content, faculty, and resources to those offered in residence and must include regular student-faculty interaction by computer, telephone, mail, or face-to-face meetings. Telecommunication programs and courses shall adhere to the following minimum standards:

1. The educational objectives for each program or course shall be clearly defined, simply stated, and of such a nature that they can be achieved through telecommunications.

2. Instructional materials and technology methods must be appropriate to meet the stated objectives of the program or course. The school must consider and implement basic online navigation of any course or program, an information exchange privacy and safety policy, a notice of minimum technology specification for students and faculty, proper system monitoring, and technology infrastructure capabilities sufficient to meet the demands of the programs being offered.

3. The school shall provide faculty and student training and support services specifically related to telecommunication activities.

4. The school shall provide for methods for timely interaction between students and faculty.

5. The school shall develop standards that ensure that accepted students have sufficient background, knowledge, and technical skills to successfully undertake a telecommunications program.

M. The school shall maintain and ensure that students have access to a library with a collection, staff, services, equipment, and facilities that are adequate and appropriate for the purpose and enrollment of the school. Library resources shall be current, well distributed among fields in which the institution offers instructions, cataloged, logically organized, and readily located. The school shall maintain a continuous plan for library resource development and support, including objectives and selections of materials. Current and formal written agreements with other libraries or with other entities may be used. Institutions offering graduate work shall provide access to library resources that include basic reference and bibliographic works and major journals in each discipline in which the graduate program is offered. Career-technical schools shall provide adequate and appropriate resources for completion of course work.

N. In accordance with § 23-276.3 B of the Code of Virginia, the school shall establish a tuition refund policy and communicate it to students. Each school shall establish, disclose, and utilize a system of tuition and fee charges for each program of instruction. These charges shall be applied uniformly to all similarly circumstanced students. This requirement does not apply to group tuition rates to business firms, industry, or governmental agencies that are documented by written agreements between the school and the respective organization.

1. The school shall adopt a minimum refund policy relative to the refund of tuition, fees, and other charges. All fees and payments, with the exception of the nonrefundable fee described in subdivision 2 of this subsection, remitted to the school by a prospective student shall be refunded if the student is not admitted, does not enroll in the school, does not begin the program or course, withdraws prior to the start of the program, or is dismissed prior to the start of the program.

2. A school may require the payment of a reasonable nonrefundable initial fee, not to exceed $100, to cover expenses in connection with processing a student's enrollment, provided it retains a signed statement in which the parties acknowledge their understanding that the fee is nonrefundable. No other nonrefundable fees shall be allowed prior to enrollment.

3. The school shall provide a period of at least three business days, excluding weekends and holidays, during which a student applicant may cancel his enrollment without financial obligation other than the nonrefundable fee described in subdivision 2 of this subsection.

4. Following the period described in subdivision 3 of this subsection, a student applicant (one who has applied for admission to a school) may cancel, by written notice, his enrollment at any time prior to the first class day of the session for which application was made. When cancellation is requested under these circumstances, the school is required to refund all tuition paid by the student, less a maximum tuition fee of 15% of the stated costs of the course or program or $100, whichever is less. A student applicant will be considered a student as of the first day of classes.

5. The date of the institution's determination that the student withdrew should be no later than 14 calendar days after the student's last date of attendance as determined by the institution from its attendance records. The institution is not required to administratively withdraw a student who has been absent for 14 calendar days. However, after 14 calendar days, the institution is expected to have determined whether the student intends to return to classes or to withdraw. In addition, if the student is eventually determined to have withdrawn, the end of the 14-day period begins the timeframe for calculating the refunds. In the event that a written notice is submitted, the effective date of termination shall be the date of the written notice. The school may require that written notice be transmitted via registered or certified mail, or by electronic transmission provided that such a stipulation is contained in the written enrollment contract. The school is required to submit refunds to individuals who have terminated their status as students within 45 days after receipt of a written request or the date the student last attended classes whichever is sooner. An institution that provides the majority of its program offerings through distance learning shall have a plan for student termination, which shall be provided to council staff for review with its annual or recertification application.

6. In the case of a prolonged illness or accident, death in the family, or other special circumstances that make attendance impossible or impractical, a leave of absence may be granted to the student if requested in writing by the student or designee. No monetary charges or accumulated absences may be assessed to the student during a leave of absence. A school need not treat a leave of absence as a withdrawal if it is an approved leave of absence. A leave of absence is an approved leave of absence if:

a. The school has a formal, published policy regarding leaves of absence;

b. The student followed the institution's policy in requesting the leave of absence and submits a signed, dated request with the reasons for the leave of absence;

c. The school determines that there is a reasonable expectation that the student will return to the school;

d. The school approved the student's request in accordance with the published policy;

e. The school does not impose additional charges to the student as a result of the leave of absence;

f. The leave of absence does not exceed 180 days in any 12-month period; and

g. Upon the student's return from the leave of absence, the student is permitted to complete the coursework he began prior to the leave of absence.

7. If a student does not resume attendance at the institution on or before the end of an approved leave of absence, the institution must treat the student as a withdrawal, and the date that the leave of absence was approved should be considered the last date of attendance for refund purposes.

8. The minimum refund policy for a school that financially obligates the student for a quarter, semester, trimester or other period not exceeding 4-1/2 calendar months shall be as follows:

a. For schools that utilize an add/drop period, a student who withdraws during the add/drop period shall be entitled to 100% refund for the period.

b. For unaccredited schools and schools that do not utilize an add/drop period:

(1) A student who enters school but withdraws during the first 1/4 (25%) of the period is entitled to receive as a refund a minimum of 50% of the stated cost of the course or program for the period.

(2) A student who enters a school but withdraws after completing 1/4 (25%), but less than 1/2 (50%) of the period is entitled to receive as a refund a minimum of 25% of the stated cost of the course or program for the period.

(3) A student who withdraws after completing 1/2 (50%), or more than 1/2 (50%), of the period is not entitled to a refund.

9. The minimum refund policy for a school that financially obligates the student for the entire amount of tuition and fees for the entirety of a program or course shall be as follows:

a. A student who enters the school but withdraws or is terminated during the first quartile (25%) of the program shall be entitled to a minimum refund amounting to 75% of the cost of the program.

b. A student who withdraws or is terminated during the second quartile (more than 25% but less than 50%) of the program shall be entitled to a minimum refund amounting to 50% of the cost of the program.

c. A student who withdraws or is terminated during the third quartile (more than 50% but less than 75%) of the program shall be entitled to a minimum refund amounting to 25% of the cost of the program.

d. A student who withdraws after completing more than three quartiles (75%) of the program shall not be entitled to a refund.

10. The minimum refund policy for a school that offers its programs completely via telecommunications or distance education shall be as follows:

a. For a student canceling after the 5th calendar day following the date of enrollment but prior to receipt by the school of the first completed lesson assignment, all moneys paid to the school shall be refunded, except the nonrefundable fee described in subdivision 2 of this subsection.

b. If a student enrolls and withdraws or is discontinued after submission of the first completed lesson assignment, but prior to the completion of the program, minimum refunds shall be calculated as follows:

(1) A student who starts the program but withdraws up to and including completion of the first quartile (25%) of the program is entitled to receive as a refund a minimum of 75% of the stated cost of the course or program for the period.

(2) A student who starts the program but withdraws after completing up to the second quartile (more than 25%, but less than 50%) of the program is entitled to receive as a refund a minimum of 50% of the stated cost of the course or program for the period.

(3) A student who starts the program but withdraws after completing up to the third quartile (more than 50%, but less than 75%) of the program is entitled to receive as a refund a minimum of 25% of the stated cost of the course or program for the period.

(4) A student who withdraws after completing the third quartile (75%) or more of the program is not entitled to a refund.

c. The percentage of the program completed shall be determined by comparing the number of completed lesson assignments received by the school to the total number of lesson assignments required in the program.

d. If the school uses standard enrollment terms, such as semesters or quarters, to measure student progress, the school may use the appropriate refund policy as provided in subdivision 8 or 9 of this subsection.

11. Fractions of credit for courses completed shall be determined by dividing the total amount of time required to complete the period or the program by the amount of time the student actually spent in the program or the period, or by the number of correspondence course lessons completed, as described in the contract.

12. Expenses incurred by students for instructional supplies, tools, activities, library, rentals, service charges, deposits, and all other charges are not required to be considered in tuition refund computations when these expenses have been represented separately to the student in the enrollment contract and catalogue, or other documents, prior to enrollment in the course or program. The school shall adopt and adhere to reasonable policies regarding the handling of these expenses when calculating the refund.

13. For programs longer than one year, the policy outlined in subdivisions 9, 10, and 11 of this subsection shall apply separately for each academic year or portion thereof.

14. Schools shall comply with the cancellation and settlement policy outlined in this section, including promissory notes or contracts for tuition or fees sold to third parties.

15. When notes, contracts or enrollment agreements are sold to third parties, the school shall continue to have the responsibility to provide the training specified regardless of the source of any tuition, fees, or other charges that have been remitted to the school by the student or on behalf of the student.

O. The school shall keep relevant academic transcripts for all teaching faculty to document that each has the appropriate educational credentials in the area of teaching responsibility. In the event teaching qualification is based on professional competencies or scholarly achievements, relevant documentation to support reported experience must be retained by the school.

P. If an internship, externship, or production work is necessary as a part of the school's education program, the school must adhere to the following:

1. When programs contain internships or externships, in any form, the professional training must:

a. Be identified as part of the approved curriculum of the school and be specified in terms of expected learning outcomes in a written training plan.

b. Be monitored by an instructor of record during the entire period of the internship.

c. Not be used to provide labor or as replacement for a permanent employee.

d. Be performed according to a specified schedule of time required for training including an expected completion date.

e. If the internship, externship, or production work is part of the course requirement, the student may not be considered as a graduate or issued a graduation credential until the internship, externship, or production work has been satisfactorily completed.

2. When receiving compensation for services provided by students as part of their education program, the school must clearly inform customers that services are performed by students by (i) posting a notice in plain view of the public or (ii) requiring students to wear nametags that identify them as students while performing services related to their training.

Q. An institution shall notify council staff of the following occurrences no later than 30 days prior to said occurrence:

1. Addition of new programs or modifications to existing program. Program names must adhere to the CIP taxonomy maintained by the National Center for Education Statistics.

2. Addition of a new branch location or instructional site.

3. Address change of a branch or instructional site in Virginia.

Notification of the above-referenced occurrences shall be submitted in writing on forms provided by and in a manner prescribed by the council.

R. An institution shall notify the council of the following occurrences no later than 30 days following said occurrence.

1. Naming of new school president.

2. Naming of new campus or branch director.

3. Naming of person responsible for the regulatory oversight of the institution.

Statutory Authority

§§ 23.1-203 and 23.1-215 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 22, Issue 23, eff. August 24, 2006; amended, Virginia Register Volume 30, Issue 8, eff. February 3, 2014; Volume 32, Issue 17, eff. June 3, 2016; Volume 37, Issue 1, eff. September 30, 2020.

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