Pursuant to G.L. c. 112, § 263, oversight responsibilities for private occupational schools (also known as “proprietary schools”) will transfer from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to the Division of Professional Licensure (DPL) on August 1, 2012.

Until August 1, oversight responsibility for occupational schools remains with DESE. The DESE web page for occupational schools can be accessed here.

The Office of the State Auditor (OSA) evaluates the financial qualifications of occupational schools prior to licensing by DESE, and sets a security amount for each school. It will play a similar role after August 1. The OSA web page for occupational schools can be accessed here.

This Notice is for general informational purposes and will be supplemented with additional information and materials at www.state.ma.us/dpl/ as the transition proceeds and the occupational schools program is implemented at DPL. Affected individuals and entities are advised to consult the applicable laws and regulations. This Notice is not binding and may be changed at any time.

Overview

Under the new law, DPL will have licensing authority over all private occupational schools operating in Massachusetts, subject to certain important exceptions. For example, the licensing authority does not apply to chartered degree-granting institutions, to religious schools, or to schools exclusively engaged in training persons with disabilities.

The new law grants DPL the authority to adopt rules and regulations governing the licensure and operation of private occupational schools; to approve curriculum, instructors, and staff; to investigate complaints and conduct inspections; to discipline licensees for noncompliance; and to penalize unlicensed individuals and entities for operating without a license. DPL is empowered to conduct criminal background checks for purposes of licensure and investigations, and to issue subpoenas for testimony and documents. After a hearing, among other things, DPL may revoke or suspend a license, order probation, and assess civil penalties. DPL also may order restitution of student fees and tuition, and issue orders to cease and desist.

Under the law, existing regulations promulgated by DESE (603 CMR 3.00) will remain in effect after August 1, unless and until they are revised or rescinded by DPL. Other consumer protection laws and regulations offering protection for students at occupational schools, including G.L. c. 255, sec. 13K and 940 CMR 3.10 , remain in effect and do not expire on August 1.

Licensing Schools

Under the new law, schools subject to licensure must satisfy the OSA that they are financially qualified to operate. If the OSA finds that a school is financially qualified to operate, then the school is eligible to apply to DPL for licensure. The law requires applicants to submit information regarding instructors, facilities and equipment, courses, and fields of instruction, as well as the form of any contract or agreement to be executed by a prospective student. DPL will review license applications and conduct criminal background checks of principals, administrators, employees, and other individuals who are associated with the occupational school. Schools also must furnish a bond with surety or a form of indemnification acceptable to DPL in an amount determined by the OSA of not less than $5,000. A decision to deny a license is subject to administrative and judicial review. The DPL license application form for schools will be available here.

The law provides that schools currently licensed by DESE shall remain licensed to operate for the duration of that license, and that licensed schools shall have 18 months to comply with new licensing requirements promulgated by DPL. The schools currently licensed by DESE are listed here.

Licensing Sales Representatives

Under the new law, sales representatives for occupational schools must be licensed by DPL. The law requires applicants to submit information including educational qualifications, business references, and personal references. Applicants will be subject to criminal background checks and must demonstrate satisfactory proof of good moral character. Sales Representatives also must furnish a bond with surety or a form of indemnification acceptable to DPL in an amount determined by the OSA of not less than $1,000. The DPL license application form for sales representatives will be available here.

Protecting Students

The licensing requirements for schools and for sales representatives are intended to protect students from the harms that can occur if a school does not provide the training for which the student contracted, if a school closes, or if a school does not provide a timely refund of tuition. When the new law takes effect, a student who believes that a school or a sales representative is not complying with the law will be able to file a complaint with DPL. The DPL complaint form will be available here. Every complaint will be investigated, and appropriate cases will be prosecuted.

In addition, outside the DPL program, the new law also allows students to pursue a civil action against an officer, representative, or school that misleads or falsely advertises. The student may recover treble damages or $10,000, whichever is greater, plus costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

Advisory Council

The new law creates a 12-member advisory council to advise DPL on matters relating to the oversight of private occupational schools. Persons interested in serving on the advisory council are advised to review the relevant section of the law, G.L. c. 112, § 263(r), and to submit a resume and letter of interest to Casey Atkins, Deputy Director for Policy and Boards, by email (casey.atkins@state.ma.us) no later than August 31, 2012.