After nearly 50 years of regional accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission, the U.S. Department of Education’s designated accrediting agency for colleges and universities in 19 mid-western states, Kettering College, a well-respected medical college and division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Kettering Medical Center, faced the threat of withdrawal of its long-standing accreditation if it does not separately incorporate and divest itself of its ties to Kettering Medical Center and the Church that has managed its curriculum since its founding in 1967. In August 2018, C&A filed a petition in federal court in Ohio to compel HLC to arbitrate the college’s dispute over the sudden mandate.
For the past 50 years, Kettering College has operated as a division of Kettering Medical Center, which is chartered by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Church’s mission is to provide healing services to the world, and it provides high-quality education in the medical arts to further that mission. HLC’s ultra vires demand that the college separately incorporate needlessly tramples on the Church’s and college’s freedom of religion and the college’s ability to serve its students. Forced separate incorporation would have disqualified the college from the receipt of significant federal funding of its educational programs and federal student financial aid programs. It also would have imperiled the Church’s ability to control the college’s curriculum in accordance with Seventh-day Adventist values. Loss of regional accreditation would have had equally dire consequences to the college’s mission to serve its students and prepare them for careers in the healing arts as such accreditation is also required for the receipt of funding and the ability of its students to transfer credits or continue with post-baccalaureate programs at other institutions.
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01 Petition to Compel Arbitration
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) Board of Trustees (“the Board”) approved this policy on first reading at its meeting on November 1–2, 2018.
HLC’s current policy on jurisdiction requires its affiliated institutions to be separately incorporated as institutions of higher education. This requirement is a significant challenge primarily for institutions that are a subsidiary of a larger healthcare corporation (i.e., a hospital) and rely on Medicare “pass-through” support payments for the costs of nursing and allied health education activities. Hospitals must meet a host of federal requirements to qualify for these funds. These include demonstrating direct control of the program curriculum, controlling the administration of the program, employing the teaching staff, and controlling both classroom instruction and clinical training. Therefore, compliance with HLC’s jurisdiction requirement would place institutions controlled by these entities at odds with the federal regulations, thereby jeopardizing their funding. The proposed policy change addresses this issue by removing the language that gave rise to the interpretation that affiliated institutions must be separately incorporated. It would specify instead that the primary purpose of the affiliated institution must be higher education. Separately, HLC is developing a framework that will enable such institutions to demonstrate they meet HLC requirements without separately incorporating. Such framework will be published at a later date.