Responses Last Confirmed:

Tennessee Higher Education Commission

Agency Contact

Julie M. Woodruff
615-253-8857
julie.woodruff@tn.gov

Additional Contact

Stephanie Bellard Chase
615-741-5293

Secretary of State Contact

Tre Hargett: Business Filings and Information
(615) 741-2286
TNSOS.CORPINFO@tn.gov
Topic

1: Important Agency Information to Note

a.
Provide any important information about your agency.

Pursuant to the Tennessee Higher Education Authorization Act of 2016 (Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-7-2001, et seq.), the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) is directly responsible for the oversight and operation of degree and non-degree granting accredited and unaccredited institutions that offer a wide variety of academic, career, technical, and trade programs. Pursuant to the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement Act (Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-7-1501, et seq.), THEC also serves as the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement Entity. The division within THEC that staffs these functions is the Division of Postsecondary State Authorization (DPSA).

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.

_____ 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 (There is an exemption applicable to some – see Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-7-2004(a)(6))
__X__ Private, in-state, for-profit degree granting institutions
__X__ Private, out-of-state, for-profit degree granting institutions
__X__ Public, in-state, non-degree granting institutions
__X__ Public, out-of-state, non-degree granting institutions
__X__ Non-degree, not-for profit institutions
__X__ Non-degree, for-profit institutions
__X__ Religious institutions (There is an exemption that is applicable to eleemosynary institutions – see Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-7-2004(a)(4))
__X__ Tribally-controlled institutions (See Comment)
__X__ Federal Institutions (See Comment)
_____ 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:

Private, in-state, not-for-profit degree granting institutions and private, out-of-state, not-for-profit degree granting institutions may be exempt pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-7-2004(a)(6)Some religious institutions may be exempt pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-7-2004(a)(4)THEC has not addressed authorization of tribally–controlled or federal institutions.

Institutions seeking regular authorization must apply for institution authorization and program approval. Institutions seeking optional expedited authorization (OEA) only apply for institution authorization. THEC maintains an inventory of OEA programs and requires proof of subject matter expert agency approval, where applicable, but does not approve OEA programs.

Topic

3: Accreditation

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

No

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

No response provided

Accreditation Required for:
____ Public, out-of-state degree granting institutions
____ Private, in-state, not-for-profit degree granting institutions
____ Private, out-of-state, not-for-profit degree granting institutions
____ Private, in-state, for-profit degree granting institutions
____ 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:

No response provided

Topic

4: Exemptions

a.
Are certain institutions or programs exempt by law or policy from your state authorization requirements?
b.
If yes, for what types of institutions? Which types of programs?

Tennessee has multiple exemptions. Please see the links at Topic 4 a. for details.

c.
Web link for exemptions.

See Topic 4 a. above.

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?

Physical presence is always considered; however, physical presence in Tennessee does not include merely enrolling a student into a distance education program. See Rules 1540-01-02-.03(42) and .04 and Distance Education Authorization Requirements.

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

Yes, physical presence is always considered. See Rules 1540-01-02-.03(42) and .04 and Distance Education Authorization Requirements.

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

Physical presence is always considered; however, physical presence in Tennessee does not include merely enrolling a student into a distance education program. See Rules 1540-01-02-.03(42) and .04 and Distance Education Authorization Requirements.

d.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

6: Physical Presence Policy

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

"Physical presence” means presence within the state of Tennessee for the purpose of conducting activity related to a postsecondary educational institution as given in T.C.A. § 49- 7-2007. Physical presence as further outlined for purposes of authorization shall include but not be limited to: (a) Operating an instructional site within the state; (b) Offering instruction within or originating from Tennessee designed to impart knowledge with response utilizing teachers, trainers, counselors or computer resources, computer linking, or any form of electronic means; (c) Granting an educational credential from a location within the state; (d) Using an agent, recruiter, institution, or business that solicits for enrollment or credits or for the award of an educational credential; or (e) Advertising, disseminating promotional material or conducting public solicitation in any form that targets Tennessee residents or uses local advertising markets in the state for institutions seeking, holding, or required to be authorized by the Commission.

b.
Web link for physical presence definition.
c.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

7: Student Complaints - SARA Participating Institutions

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

When a complaint is filed with THEC/DPSA about SARA participating institutions, the preliminary determinations are whether the complaint process was exhausted at the institution, the complaint is filed with the correct State Portal Entity, the subject-matter falls within the purview of SARA, and the complaint is timely filed. If all questions are answered yes, then THEC/DPSA will proceed with its investigation. THEC/DPSA will request any clarifying information deemed necessary from the complainant and thereafter request a response from the institution. From there, the investigation and settlement discussions will continue in accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-7-1506.

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.)?

THEC/DPSA is responsible for the entire process.

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

Contact Name: Julie M. Woodruff

Title:  Assistant Executive Director and Lead Attorney

Agency: Tennessee Higher Education Commission, DPSA

Address: 312 Rosa Parks Ave., 9th Floor, Nashville, TN 37243

Email: julie.woodruff@tn.gov

Phone: (615) 253-8857

URL:

e.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

8: Student Complaints - Non-SARA Participating Institutions

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

THEC accepts complaints from anyone in regard to regularly authorized institutions. THEC accepts only student complaints against optionally expedited authorized institutions that have not been resolved at the institution level. Any investigation and settlement discussions will continue in accordance with Rule 1540-01-02-.19(9) or Rule 1540-01-10-.07.

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.)?

THEC/DPSA is responsible for the entire process.

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)?

No. 

d.
Who is the contact person at your agency for receiving complaints?

Contact Name: Julie M. Woodruff

Title:  Assistant Executive Director and Lead Attorney

Agency: Tennessee Higher Education Commission, DPSA

Address: 312 Rosa Parks Ave., 9th Floor, Nashville, TN 37243

Email: julie.woodruff@tn.gov

Phone: (615) 253-8857

URL:

e.
Web link for the complaint form.
f.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

9: Surety Bonds

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

Yes

c.
Clarifying comments:

See Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-7-2013 for specific bond requirements.

Topic

10: Tuition Refund Policy

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

Yes, Tennessee has a default refund policy for institutions that have regular authorization. See Rule 1540-01-02-.17.

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)?

Yes, Tennessee has a tuition guarantee fund (TGF). See Tenn. Code Ann. § See 49-7-2018. Fund monies are available to students who reside in Tennessee or attend an authorized location with a Tennessee address when those students are enrolled at an institution that closes without fulling educational obligation to students.

b.
If yes, for what types of institutions?

The TGF applies to all institutions authorized through the Tennessee Higher Education Authorization Act of 2016 (Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-7-2001, et seq.).

c.
Web link for student tuition recovery fund.

There is no specific link. However, when an institution closes and it is believed that students may have TGF claims, information is posted under Institution Closure Information.

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?

All authorized institutions shall provide student-level statistical data on a THEC/DPSA data form that will allow THEC/DPSA to calculate the following statistical information by institution and program: (a) enrollment count; (b) demographic statistics; (c) withdrawal rates; (d) completion rates; (e) number of credentials awarded; (f) categories of credentials awarded; (g) placement rates; (h) in-field placement rates; and (i) average time to completion. See Rule 1540-01-02-.18 and Rule 1540-01-10-.01.

Data shall include all students enrolled at the institution between the twelve (12) months beginning July 1 and ending June 30 of the year prior to the report.

b.
How frequently do institutions report data?

Yearly on October 15

c.
Is this information published or shared publicly?

THEC publishes the results of its calculations on its website except that withdrawal, completion, placement, and in-field placement rates are not reported for programs with ten (10) or fewer students.

d.
Web link for reporting.

Institutions submit data by uploading an Excel spreadsheet to a secure web portal. Thus, there is no specific link. Final reports can be found at Authorized Institutions and Data (tn.gov).

e.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

13: Enforcement

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

Generally, THEC can assess fines, change authorization to conditional or revoke authorization. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 49-7-2010, 2017, and 2022 and Rule 1540-01-02-.22.

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.

To begin the authorization process, you must either complete an Initial Authorization Application and any related applications, such as New Program Applications or School Personnel Applications, or an Application for Optional Expedited Authorization; pay all required fees; secure the required bonds; receive a successful site visit report; and meet all minimum standards. Institutions seeking regular authorization must also complete online training before submitting an application and after Commission approval.

Applications are considered by the Committee on Postsecondary Educational Institutions (CPEI) at its quarterly meetings. The Committee will vote on whether to recommend approval of the institution and related programs to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Thereafter, the Commission will vote on the CPEI recommendation at the next Commission quarterly meeting. It is a two-step process, meaning the institution is not authorized until the Commission makes the final determination.

b.
Web link for application.
c.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

15: Fees Associated with Authorization

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

Yes

b.
If yes, what is the fee or fee schedule?

For regular authorization there is a $3000 initial authorization application fee and $500 per program application fee. Additional fee schedule information is available at Rule 1540-01-02-.25.

For Optional Expedited Authorization there is an annual $9000 application fee.

c.
Web link for fee information.

For regular authorization see Rule 1540-01-02-.25.

For Optional Expedited Authorization see Rule 1540-01-10-.09.

d.
Clarifying comments:

No response provided

Topic

16: Records Retention

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

Tennessee requires institutions to retain transcripts/certificates indefinitely. When an institution closes, THEC/DPSA requests all transcripts/certificates since the original authorization date and maintains transcript/certificates in a database managed by THEC/DPSA. Note that a new owner is responsible for the transcripts/certificates of the purchased institution.

b.
From what agency do students request their transcripts/records from a closed school?
  • Agency Name: Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC)
  • Contact Person:
  • Contact Phone: (615) 741-5293
  • Contact Address:
  • Contact Email:
  • Contact web site: Academic Transcripts (tn.gov)
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?