Certification Process Overview
Below is a brief overview of the process for gaining certification to operate a school in Missouri. To assist potential school officials in successfully achieving certification to operate, a description of the basic components of the review and approval process is included. It is essential that anyone interested in school certification carefully and thoroughly read the rules and regulations for the certification program.
The first question usually asked by anyone considering offering instruction in the state is, "Do I need to be certified to operate?" The jurisdiction of Missouri's proprietary school certification statute is established first by defining the operation of schools in very broad terms, including all types and levels of instructional activity. The actual scope of the program is then narrowed by exempting certain categories of institutions and instructional programs from the provisions of the law. The exemption and rules and regulations information include specific information regarding the exemption categories.
NOTE: Any institution granted exemption from the requirements of the certification statute may voluntarily seek certification if it so desires.
Certification is required unless the instructional activity is determined by the MDHEWD to meet the requirements of an exemption category. Keep in mind that because an organization or an individual does not consider themselves a "school" does not relieve them from the certification requirements. It is the act of offering postsecondary instruction in the state that triggers the certification requirement, not any particular organizational structure or delivery mechanism. Also, although the program includes the word proprietary in its title, both for-profit and not-for-profit entities are potentially subject to the program requirements.
Certification is authorization to operate a school or offer an instructional program in compliance with the statutory standards of operation and the requirements of the rules and regulations of the program. Simply put, it is authorization to operate in the state.
The central focus of the proprietary school certification program is the protection of the citizens of the state, not the promotion or endorsement of educational institutions or sectors of education. It is within this context that the Coordinating Board for Higher Education issues certificates of approval to operate.
Certification is not accreditation. It does not certify the school for a particular purpose or mission. It is not approval of the school, its programs, or its completion awards by the MDHEWD, the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, or the state of Missouri.
Prior to being certified to operate, a school including its officers and employees, may not
- offer or promise to offer any instruction, or
- receive, or contract for the payment of, any money or consideration of value from any student or potential student for the purpose of instruction.
This prohibition extends to the advertisement in any form of the school or its programs or stating that an application is pending with the MDHEWD in any promotional statements. The fact of being certified to operate is determined by the issuance of a certificate to operate.
Certificate of Approval
An initial certificate of approval to operate a proprietary school is issued for a one-year period. Consequently, schools must submit an application and be certified to operate annually. The certification year is July 1 of the current year through June 30 of the following year. Initial certification is granted until the end of the current certification year, at which time the school must be recertified.
There are three distinct steps in the certification process.
The review and approval of the school's application to operate a proprietary school is first. The major sections of the application deal with operational standards (compliance), institutional information (data collection and verification), and publications (consumer information). These areas are based on standards organized around institutional, programmatic, personnel, financial, and student services information. Each section contains requests for information and a testament by a school official verifying compliance with certification standards and confirming the accuracy and completeness of the application materials. The application must demonstrate that the proposal is the product of careful planning, that the instruction proposed has legitimate purpose and reasonable expectations of adequacy, and that the proposed school will have the necessary resources to implement and maintain the proposed instruction in compliance with certification standards. Schools must submit an application fee of $200 with the initial application in order to be placed in the queue for review. This amount will be credited toward the school's total initial certification fee of $500.
Processing time for an application for initial certification is impacted both by the care and diligence of its preparation and by the workload of MDHEWD staff responsible for its evaluation. Applications are always processed as quickly as possible and usually in the order in which they are received. The suggested minimum expectation for the completion of the evaluation process is approximately 120 days. Schools proposing to offer a wide range of programs or to offer degree-level study should expect a longer review time. Depending on the type and level of programs envisioned, the MDHEWD may use external consultants to assist with the evaluation of the application materials and the school proposal. Review of proposals to offer programs leading to professional licensure, such as massage therapy, will also include appropriate action or approval by the pertinent regulatory board in the state.
Applications for initial certification may be submitted at any time. For schools seeking annual recertification, March 15 prior to expiration of the current certificate to operate is the deadline for submission of the recertification application. Failure to meet this deadline can result in the lapse or denial of certification.
Applications are stamped with a validation date prior to their distribution. Because the application forms change periodically, this date is intended to ensure that applicants are utilizing the most recent and up-to-date version of the forms. For initial applications, failure to submit the application by the date stamped on the form could result in a requirement that the school resubmit the application on new forms.
Certification program staff conducts periodic visits to existing and proposed schools as a component of the application review process. For initial applications for degree-granting institutions, it is likely that at least one site visit will be conducted to the proposed campus prior to granting initial certification. Non-degree schools will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis with regard to the timing of this initial visit. The major objectives of the site visit process are to review and verify the accuracy of data and information provided to the MDHEWD, to gather additional information concerning the mission and operation of the institution, and to provide general assistance to the institution regarding the certification process and requirements.
When action is taken on an application, the school is notified of the decision in writing. If the application is denied, the school may appeal the decision to the Administrative Hearing Commission. If the application is approved, the second step of the process begins. That step is compliance with the security deposit requirement. An application may also be approved with stipulations, if staff believes the application is in substantial compliance with requirements but requires some revision to meet all standards. In this situation, the school may proceed to the next steps in the certification process but a certificate of approval will not be issued until all stipulations have been addressed.
The purpose of this statutory requirement is to indemnify students, or those responsible for students, who suffer loss or damage because of a violation of certification standards. In addition, it is designed to ensure responsible stewardship of student records should an institution close. For schools seeking initial certification, forms are provided which must be used in meeting this requirement. The permitted methods for satisfying the security deposit requirement are a surety bond, an irrevocable letter of credit, or a cash bond secured by a certificate of deposit. For schools seeking to be recertified, a form will be provided by which a school official verifies compliance with the security deposit requirement or agrees to make any required changes to bring the deposit into compliance prior to the granting of certification to operate for the next year. The formula for calculating the minimum deposit is described in the rules and regulations. The minimum deposit is $5,000 and the maximum is $100,000.
Once the security deposit requirement is satisfied, the final step is the payment of the certification fee. The formula for the calculation of the certification fee is included in the application section of the rules and regulations and varies depending on the type of certification the school is seeking. For schools applying for initial certification, the fee is established as a flat amount ($500 total) for the remainder of the current certification year. After the initial certification year, the minimum annual fee is $500 and the maximum is $5,000. For schools applying for recertification, this step is concurrent with the verification of the security deposit.