People are inspired to open schools for a variety of great reasons: they want to help people, they see a need in the community, they had a mediocre experience at another school and know they could do a better job, etc. Whatever the reason for starting a school, many of these same people find themselves overwhelmed. There is much more to starting a school than choosing a program and hiring a teacher.
Starting a school begins with licensing. Each state has a regulatory agency that creates the laws and rules for that jurisdiction. Though these regulations vary from state to state, they cover many of the same topics, including the following:
- Do you actually need a license? Different jurisdictions have different criteria for what types of schools need to be regulated versus what types of schools that are exempt from licensing. It is imperative to research the rules in your jurisdiction. What is true in one state is not necessarily true in another. Additionally, even if you are exempt, most states require a notification of your intent to open a school, to which they will respond with an official exemption letter.
- Who can you hire? Some states have very specific rules regarding who can teach what type of program, or who qualifies to be a school director. Don’t assume because someone has twenty years of experience in a certain field or industry that they will be qualified to be an instructor. A related degree or a certain number of years of teaching experience may be required in your jurisdiction.
- Want to start your recruitment efforts? Marketing is a key area of school operations. It is also the area that most often causes problems for schools and individuals. First and foremost, you cannot begin recruiting students until you have a school license (or an official exemption). Prior to licensing, you should develop a marketing plan, but do not take any actions. States also often have regulations regarding words and phrases that cannot be used in marketing materials, so make sure you are familiar with the rules. Marketing that is non-compliant can lead to serious negative actions and/or fines.
- What are the financial rules? Each state has requirements related to the financial aspects of the school, including what types of financial reports are required, as well as how student monies must be handled. Some states regulate how much tuition can be collected from students at one time. Most states have a minimum refund policy that all schools must follow. Mishandling student funds is a serious problem. Knowing the regulations and complying with them will keep you out of trouble.
- Do I need to comply with multiple regulators? Some types of programs require that you seek approval from multiple agencies. For example, you must have approval from the state post-secondary board to operate your school, but if you are operating a healthcare program, you may also need the approval of the state health department. Or, if you have plan on having campuses in more than one state, you must be regulated in each state. Make sure you do your research so that you have all the necessary approvals before enrolling students.
The examples above just scratch the surface of regulatory requirements, but also make it easy to see how someone could quickly become overwhelmed, despite having nothing but the best of intentions when starting out. Though the various regulations can seem, and can be, complicated, their ultimate goal is to protect the student and make sure that they receive quality education.
If you need help navigation the licensing process, consultants can help. Just make sure the consultant you choose knows your jurisdiction!