Responses Last Confirmed:

Massachusetts Department of Higher Education

Agency Contact

Kristen Stone, M.P.P., Assistant Director for Academic and Veterans Affairs
(617) 994-6959
kstone@dhe.mass.edu

Additional Contact

Secretary of State Contact

William Galvin
617-727-9180
cis@ses.stat.ma.us
Topic

1: Important Agency Information to Note

a.
Provide any important information about your agency.

No response provided

Topic

2: Types of Educational Providers Authorized

a.
Indicate the types of institutions that your agency authorizes. Please provide a short explanation of any ambiguity in the comment section below.

_X___    Public, in-state degree granting institutions
_X___    Public, out-of-state degree granting institutions        
_X___    Private, in-state, not-for-profit degree granting institutions 
_X___    Private, out-of-state, not-for-profit degree granting institutions    
_X___    Private, in-state, for-profit degree granting institutions
_X___    Private, out-of-state, for-profit degree granting institutions
_____    Public, in-state, non-degree granting institutions
_____    Public, out-of-state, non-degree granting institutions
_____    Non-degree, not-for profit institutions
_____    Non-degree, for-profit institutions
_X___    Religious institutions
_____    Tribally-controlled institutions
_____    Federal Institutions
_X___   Municipal institutions

b.
Does your agency authorize specific academic programs offered by institutions, only institutions themselves, or both?

____ Institution   _____ Program   __X___ Both

c.
Clarifying comments:

Independent and out-of-state institutions seeking to offer college courses without leading to a degree are subject to MBHE approval.

Topic

3: Accreditation

a.
Is accreditation required for an institution to be authorized in your state?

Yes

b.
If yes, please check all that apply as appropriate.

Accreditation Required for:
_X__ Public, out-of-state degree granting institutions
____ Private, in-state, not-for-profit degree granting institutions
_X__ Private, out-of-state, not-for-profit degree granting institutions
____ Private, in-state, for-profit degree granting institutions
_X__ Private, out-of-state, for-profit degree granting institutions
____ Public, in-state, non-degree granting institutions
____ Public, out-of-state, non-degree granting institutions
____ Non-degree, not-for profit institutions
____ Non-degree, for-profit institutions
____ Religious institutions
____ Tribally-controlled institutions
____ Federal Institutions
____ Municipal institutions

c.
Clarifying comments:

Out-of-state institutions seeking approval in Massachusetts must be accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), or a regional and/or a national accreditation agency recognized by the United States Department of Education.

New Massachusetts-based institutions seeking approval to grant degrees in Massachusetts are not required to be accredited or to seek accreditation, though most elect to do so after a few years of operation.

Topic

4: Exemptions

a.
Are certain institutions or programs exempt by law or policy from your state authorization requirements?

Yes.

b.
If yes, for what types of institutions? Which types of programs?

Massachusetts-based institutions that were chartered prior to the creation of the Board of Higher Education in 1943 are usually not subject to the authority of the Board. There are a few exceptions, where “pre-1943” institutions have made amendments to their articles of organization that brought them under Board purview.

Non-degree granting institutions are subject to the authorization and oversight of the Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure’s Office of Private Occupational School Education.

c.
Web link for exemptions.

No response provided

d.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

5: Authorization of Distance Education

a.
Does your agency require purely online programs offered by out-of-state institutions to be authorized without regard to physical presence?

No

b.
If not, does your agency determine whether an institution must be authorized based on a physical presence (“operating”) standard?

Yes

c.
Does your agency require correspondence study programs to be authorized without regard to physical presence?

No

d.
Clarifying comments:

At this time, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education’s (BHE) definition of physical presence does not include 100% distance education or experiential learning activities, such as internships, externships, clinical, or practice within the Commonwealth. However, if an institution also engages in the one of the following activities, BHE approval is required:

  1. Occupying, regardless of ownership, an actual physical location for instructional purposes, whether synchronous or asynchronous instruction;
  2.  Maintaining an administrative office to facilitate instruction in the Commonwealth, or for purposes of providing information to prospective students or the general public about the institution, or enrolling students or providing services to enrolled students;
  3. Providing office space to instructional or non-instructional staff;
  4. Establishing an institutional mailing address, street address or phone number in the Commonwealth.

However, Massachusetts’ requirements are in the process of changing:

  • In October 2017, the BHE voted in favor of Massachusetts joining SARA, an interstate reciprocity agreement for state authorization. Now that Massachusetts has become a SARA state, if an institution is authorized to operate under SARA by the institution’s home state, any online programs that the institution offers will be governed by the terms of the SARA Operations and Policy Manual.
  • Contemporaneously, the BHE is also reviewing and amending its degree-granting authority regulations, and it is likely that the revised regulations will impose certain requirements for authorization for non-SARA institutions offering purely distance education. The BHE currently anticipates that amended regulations may be in place in Fall 2021. Once the revised regulations have been promulgated, if an institution is not authorized to operate under SARA, the institution will no longer be able to offer 100% online programs without obtaining BHE approval/authorization
Topic

6: Physical Presence Policy

a.
If your agency uses a physical presence standard, how does your agency define physical presence?

At this time, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education’s (BHE) definition of physical presence does not include 100% distance education or experiential learning activities, such as internships, externships, clinical, or practical within the Commonwealth. However, if an institution also engages in the one of the following activities, BHE approval is required:

  1. Occupying, regardless of ownership, an actual physical location for instructional purposes, whether synchronous or asynchronous instruction;
  2. Maintaining an administrative office to facilitate instruction in the Commonwealth, or for purposes of providing information to prospective students or the general public about the institution, or enrolling students or providing services to enrolled students;
  3. Providing office space to instructional or non-instructional staff;
  4. Establishing an institutional mailing address, street address or phone number in the Commonwealth 
b.
Web link for physical presence definition.

No response provided

c.
Clarifying comments:

Massachusetts’ requirements are in the process of changing:

  • In October 2017, the BHE voted in favor of Massachusetts joining SARA, an interstate reciprocity agreement for state authorization. Now that Massachusetts has become a SARA state, if an institution is authorized to operate under SARA by the institution’s home state, any online programs that the institution offers will be governed by the terms of the SARA Operations and Policy Manual.
  • Contemporaneously, the BHE is also reviewing and amending its degree-granting authority regulations, and it is likely that the revised regulations will impose certain requirements for authorization for non-SARA institutions offering purely distance education. The BHE currently anticipates that amended regulations will be in place in Fall 2021. Once the revised regulations have been promulgated, if an institution is not authorized to operate under SARA, the institution will no longer be able to offer 100% online programs without obtaining BHE approval/authorization
Topic

7: Student Complaints - SARA Participating Institutions

a.
Please describe the process for handling complaints about SARA participating Institutions.

The following information regarding the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s SARA Complaint Process is excerpted from https://www.mass.edu/foradmin/sara/complaints.asp.

Student Complaints

The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, in its capacity as the SARA portal entity for Massachusetts, reviews and evaluates student complaints regarding distance learning programs offered by Massachusetts-based institutions that are members of SARA in accordance with 610 CMR 12.07. Complaints that should be filed as a SARA Complaint are those that pertain to distance (online) education provided by Massachusetts-based SARA institutions to students residing in other states pursuant to SARA only. Complaints about a SARA institution’s operations or activities in Massachusetts can be filed here and will be resolved pursuant to 610 CMR 2.00 or otherwise in accordance with the institution's policies.

The SARA complaint process is as follows:

  1. Students must first attempt to resolve their complaint using internal administrative procedures offered by the SARA institution.
  2. After all administrative remedies have been exhausted with the MA-SARA institution, the student may submit a SARA Complaint via the URL below.
  3. The Department shall send a copy of the complaint to the institution that is the subject of the complaint;
  4. Within 30 days of the date that the Department sends a copy of the complaint to the institution, the institution must provide a written response to the student and the Department.

More information about the BHE’s complaint process can be found here.

Within 30 days of the date the Department received the institution’s response, or if the Department receives no response, the Commissioner or his or her designee shall issue a notice to the institution containing the Commissioner’s findings regarding the complaint; any corrective actions that the institution shall take; and that, should the institution fail to take those corrective actions, the complaint shall be referred to the Office of the Attorney General for review and, if the Office of the Attorney General deems it appropriate, enforcement action.

b.
Is the process handled all within your agency or do you divide consumer protection and student complaint duties dependent on the type of institution (Public, Private, Technical, etc.)?

The process for handling SARA complaints is administered entirely by SARA personnel in the General Counsel Unit of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. Institutions are provided the opportunity to respond in writing to SARA complaints filed with the Department of Higher Education, and the Department evaluates institutional responses in light of the SARA complaint and requirements set forth in 610 CMR 12.00 et seq. as well as the NC-SARA Policy Manual.

c.
Web link for student complaints – SARA participating institutions.
d.
Who is the contact person at your agency for receiving complaints?

 

e.
Clarifying comments:

While there are differences in the types of student complaints that are reviewable under SARA, the Department’s procedure for forwarding and evaluating institutional responses to SARA complaints is essentially the same procedure for evaluating student complaints filed under the Department’s general consumer complaint process.

Topic

8: Student Complaints - Non-SARA Participating Institutions

a.
Please describe the process for handling complaints about out-of-state postsecondary institutions or programs?

The following information regarding the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s Complaint Policy and Process is excerpted from https://www.mass.edu/forstufam/complaints/complaints.asp:

The Board of Higher Education attempts to provide an avenue for the informal resolution of complaints and concerns regarding institutions of higher education. The BHE’s complaint policy can be found at https://www.mass.edu/forstufam/documents/Final DHE Complaint Policy.pdf.

Process

To initiate a complaint about a college or university operating in Massachusetts, a complaint form must be completed.

After a complaint is submitted to the Board of Higher Education, the complaint is referred to the institution it concerns for explanation, response, and resolution, if possible. The institution generally has 30 days from its receipt of the complaint from the Board to provide a response to the complainant and the Board. If the forthcoming clarification and response concerning a Massachusetts institution do not satisfy the Board, the matter shall be referred to the Consumer Protection Division and/or the Public Charities Division of the Attorney General's Office. If the institution is outside of Massachusetts, DHE will attempt to coordinate with similar authorities where the complainant resides.

An institution’s own Board of Trustees has the authority and responsibility to establish and enforce policies necessary for the management of the institution. The Board of Higher Education cannot require any institution to take any specific action in a matter and cannot provide complainants with legal advice.

b.
Is the process handled all within your agency or do you divide consumer protection and student complaint duties dependent on the type of institution (Public, Private, Technical, etc.)?

This process is managed internally within the Department of Higher Education; unless the nature of a complaint rises to the level of needing intervention from the Attorney General’s Office. The Department does not oversee occupational/career (i.e., non-degree-granting) institutions. Any complaints against one of those institutions would be handled according to the procedures established by the Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure’s Office of Private Occupational School Education. The Department also does not oversee institutions that were chartered prior to the creation of the Board of Higher Education in 1943 (with a few limited exceptions, where “pre-1943” institutions have made amendments to their articles of organization that brought them under Board purview). Complaints against these institutions would be handled according to the procedures established by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

c.
Does this complaint process extend to institutions not authorized by the agency that may enroll residents of the state (such as explicitly distance education programs with no physical presence or exempt institutions)?

Yes, per the Department of Higher Education’s management of the complaint process for out of state institutions operating in Massachusetts required by Title IV of the Higher Education Act (34 CFR § 600.9(a)(1)).

d.
Who is the contact person at your agency for receiving complaints?
  • Contact Name: Angela Williams  
  • Title:  Paralegal and Coordinator for Accountability & Regulatory Affairs
  • Agency: Massachusetts Department of Higher Education
  • Address: One Ashburton Place, Room 1401, Boston, MA 02108
  • Email: awilliams@dhe.mass.edu
  • Phone: (617) 994-6963
  • URL:
f.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

9: Surety Bonds

a.
Does your state require a Surety Bond for authorized out-of-state institutions?

No

b.
Web link for surety bonds.

No response provided

c.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

10: Tuition Refund Policy

a.
Does your state have a Tuition Refund Policy Requirement?

Yes. Per 610 CMR 2.07(3)(e)(4), independent and out-of-state institutions authorized by the Board of Higher Education after its establishment in 1943 are required to make public their policies regarding refunds of moneys, which shall be fair and equitable.

b.
If yes, for what types of institutions?

No response provided

c.
Web link for tuition refund policy.

No response provided

d.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

11: Student Tuition Recovery Fund

a.
Does your state have a Student Tuition Recovery Fund (or similar fund for school closure)?

No

b.
If yes, for what types of institutions?

No response provided

c.
Web link for student tuition recovery fund.

No response provided

d.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

12: Reporting

a.
What kinds of information or data must an institution report to your agency as a condition for continued out-of-state authorization?

The Department of Higher Education does not require the submission of any information or data from out-of-state institutions at this time unless they have established a physical presence in Massachusetts, in which case they are subject to the requirements in our regulations, including periodic review and investigation as needed and annual reporting requirements for proprietary institutions. All institutions located in Massachusetts are subject to the requirements of the Financial Assessment and Risk Monitoring (FARM) statute and regulations (see www.mass.edu/farm).

b.
How frequently do institutions report data?

No response provided

c.
Is this information published or shared publicly?

With some exceptions, including all information received or created in connection with the FARM initiative, all documents made or received by the DHE are public records and subject to disclosure upon request.

d.
Web link for reporting.

No response provided

e.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

13: Enforcement

a.
What are possible consequences of institutional non-compliance?

An investigation of an institution will be carried out when facts are brought to the attention of the Board suggesting a reasonable probability of non-compliance with 610 CMR 2.00; or suggesting a reasonable probability that a degree or degrees are being or will be awarded within the Commonwealth without proper authority; or that a course or courses available to residents of the Commonwealth leading to the award of a degree or degrees are being or will be conducted within the Commonwealth without proper authority. When an investigation is undertaken to inquire into probable noncompliance with standards, the Board will require the institution to provide specific information pertinent to the specific concern. The Board may require the institution to provide some or all of the information described in 610 CMR 2.07 and/or 610 CMR 2.08, if applicable.

In accordance with the provisions of M.G.L. c. 69, § 30A, if the Board has reason to believe that an institution does not comply with its regulations it shall conduct a preliminary inquiry of the matter. If this inquiry indicates a reason to believe that the institution does not comply with 610 CMR 2.00, the Commissioner of Higher Education may, if appropriate, review the alleged violations with the institution and approve a corrective course of action by the institution. Where the Commissioner does not determine it to be appropriate to review the alleged violations with the institution, or if the preliminary inquiry does not result in a satisfactory resolution of the concern, the Board may conduct an adjudicatory hearing pursuant to M.G.L. c. 69, § 30A to determine whether to revoke or suspend the institution's degree-granting authority. The Board may revoke or suspend the institution's degree-granting at the expiration of the time to file an appeal pursuant to M.G.L. c. 30A (30 days) if the institution elects not to file an appeal, or upon a final decision of an appeal by the court. The Board shall notify the Secretary of State and the institution of any revocation or suspension.

http://www.mass.edu/610cmr (610 CMR 2.10)

b.
Web link for enforcement information.

No response provided

c.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

14: Application Process

a.
Please provide a short description of the application process to obtain state authorization.

Independent and Out-of-State institutions must submit an application to the Board of Higher Education. In addition, the Articles of Amendment/Organization or Foreign Corporation Certificate must also be filed be with the Secretary of the Commonwealth, which are then referred to the Board of Higher Education for investigation of the institution, its faculty, equipment, courses of study, financial organization, leadership, and other relevant facts.

As indicated in 610 CMR 2.07(2), the process requires a review of the application and an evaluation by outside experts who are formed into a visiting committee, a public notice and comment period, and a vote by the Board of Higher Education.

c.
Clarifying comments:

Prior to submitting an application, an institution is strongly encouraged to consult with DHE staff.

Topic

15: Fees Associated with Authorization

a.
Is there an application fee associated with the authorization process?

An institution shall pay the following fees:

  • For the initial licensure of a Massachusetts-based or Out-of-state institution: $10,000 plus $2,000 for each degree requested at the same time if more than one.
  • Annual fee each year for the first five years following initial licensure for institutions new to Massachusetts: $4,000
  • For each additional degree at Massachusetts licensed institutions: $4,500 plus $2,000 for each additional degree requested at the same time if more than one.
  • Periodic inspection or review (if a separate review from Board’s participation in NECHE review is required): $4,000.
  • Other requests requiring public hearings (e.g., award honorary degree(s), change the name of an institution, or retitle an existing, authorized degree): $500.
  • Institutional closure: $500.
  • At this time, Notice of Intent reviews are conducted without cost to eligible institutions.
b.
If yes, what is the fee or fee schedule?

No response provided

c.
Web link for fee information.

https://www.mass.edu/610CMR  610 CMR 2.06(1)(b)

d.
Clarifying comments:

There are additional costs associated with the site visit related to travel and other accommodations for the reviewers and DHE staff.

Topic

16: Records Retention

a.
When a school closes, what is the process your state uses to ensure that transcripts/records are kept available?

Massachusetts law requires closing institutions to notify the Board of Higher Education of its intention to close as far as possible and well in advance by contacting the Department of Higher Education. The closing institution is required to provide to the Department specific information regarding how and where student records will be maintained, including the name, address, and contact information of the successor records custodian.

b.
From what agency do students request their transcripts/records from a closed school?

The majority of closed school transcripts and records are placed with another institution of higher education which has a registrar function that can service transcript requests. The Department of Higher Education maintains information about the location of transcripts for closed institutions. For information regarding transcripts from a closed degree-granting college or university, students should contact the appropriate entity listed as the record holder for the closed institution.

Contact web site: https://www.mass.edu/forstufam/diplomas/closedinst.asp

 

 

c.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

17: Additional Information

a.
Is there anything else about the authorization process in your state that we and others ought to know about?

The DHE strongly recommends that institutions contact DHE staff for further information, guidance and clarification if they have any questions or are unsure about the process.