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Frequently Asked Questions for Institutions

What is the role of the Higher Education Licensure Commission?

The Higher Education Licensure Commission ("HELC" or “Commission”) is a regulatory, consumer protection body that is responsible for public protection with regard to legitimate, quality postsecondary education in the District of Columbia. The Commission establishes standards for postsecondary educational operations, authorizes operations, approves programs, issues or denies licenses to, and oversees, all private postsecondary educational institutions in the District of Columbia. Additionally, the Commission regulates and enforces postsecondary laws and regulations, maintains the student records of institutions which close and have no other repository, issues certified transcripts, and investigates student and faculty complaints against educational institutions under its jurisdiction. [top]

What type of postsecondary institutions must be approved (have a license) to operate in the District of Columbia?

The Higher Education Licensure Commission licenses public and private, degree & non- degree granting, in-state and out- of-state, for profit & not-for-profit institutions including religious and tribally-controlled institutions operating in the District of Columbia.  Additionally, the Commission licenses agents to represent out-of-state institutions or recruit on their behalf in the District.  [top]

What types of postsecondary institutions are exempt from licensure?

There are specific criteria for which an institution may apply to the Commission requesting an exemption from licensure.  The eligible exemptions are found in DC Official Code § 38-1310. To request consideration for exempt status, an institution should complete and submit the Application for Conditional Exemption which is found here.  If the request for an exemption is denied, the institution will need to apply for provisional licensure.  

Congressionally chartered postsecondary institutions are also exempt pursuant to DC Official Code § 38-1310.  However, these institutions are not required to apply for exemption.  [top]

Does the Higher Education Licensure Commission regulate distance learning via the internet?

The ELC regulates any postsecondary institution operating in the District, whether or not that institution provides 100% of instruction through distance learning via the internet. Institutions interested in operating distance education programs in the District should click here for the list of requested information about the institutions planned offerings. [top]

What does “physical presence” in the District mean?

Physical presence in the District is defined through the terms “operating” or “to operate”. “To operate” or “operating”, when applied to an educational institution in the District, is defined by DC Official Code § 38-1302(11) and means to establish, keep, or maintain any facility or location in the District, or to establish, keep, or maintain any facility or location organized or chartered in the District wherefrom or through which education is offered or given, or educational credentials are offered or granted, and includes contracting with any person, group, or entity to perform any such act. [top]

How does a school become licensed to operate in the District of Columbia?

A postsecondary institution seeking an initial approval to operate in the District of Columbia must first attend the New Applicant workshop (click here for more details).  Within six (6) months of attending the New Applicant Workshop the institution must complete and submit an Application for Provisional Licensure and remit required fees.  ELC staff will visit the school site to ensure the school meets operational and safety standards and has the necessary equipment to operate a school in accordance to its stated mission.  Upon the receipt of a complete application and the completion of a successful site visit, ELC staff will submit the institution’s materials to the Commission for review at its next scheduled public meeting.  The school will be notified, in writing, of the Commission’s action and, if approved, a license will be issued. [top]

How long does the approval process take?

Assuming that the institution submits all required information to the ELC in its application, the processing time is approximately ninety (90) days. [top]

What is the duration of approval?
First time (provisional) licenses are only approved for a period of one (1) year.  At the discretion of the Commission, renewals may be approved for one (1) to three (3) years for non-degree institutions and one (1) to five (5) years for degree granting institutions.   Agent licenses are approved for a period of one (1) year.  [top]

What are the fees associated with ELC services?

Please click here.[top]

What is the public complaint process?

Complaints against institutions must be submitted in writing.  The complaint will be shared with the alleged violator for a formal response.  After consideration of all information presented the Commission may initiate an investigation of the information or complaint, mandate corrective actions by the respondent and monitoring of the implementation of the corrective actions, proceed in accordance with section 8018; or dismiss the complaint. If the Commission dismisses a complaint, it shall give the complainant notice of the dismissal in writing. [top]

What is the process to close an approved (licensed) postsecondary institution?

A postsecondary institution licensed by the ELC may not close until it has complied with the regulatory requirements and the ELC has approved the institution’s closure plan. In the event that you intend to close your institution, you must complete the School Closure Form at least ninety (90) days prior to the proposed school closure. The Commission will acknowledge the institution's intention to close and outline the necessary procedures to ensure students are properly refunded or offered a teach-out and provide for the preservation of students records. [top]

What if a postsecondary institution is operating without approval from the Higher Education Licensure Commission?

Unapproved or unauthorized schools are in violation of the law and may be subject to civil and criminal penalties and fines.  [top]