How To Open a Private University or College in the US
This involves helping our clients understand all the legal and financial requirements around university establishment, as well as providing marketing and branding advice to ensure their university or college stands out from other educational institutions.
Our competitors can only offer a limited service, either licensing or accreditation, as most don't have the skills or team required to provide a turnkey service. This is why EEC stands out from the crowd – we can offer our clients everything they need to get their university off the ground easily and efficiently.
At EEC we're looking at building a long-term relationship with our clients, where launching a university is only the first step.
We are confident that no other company can match our team of experts and their specialized knowledge.
What Do I Need to Know Before I Start?
Starting a private college/university will be a great challenge and a great reward. Private colleges offer a smaller class size, which translates to more personal attention for the student, and ultimately a better education. Starting a private college shares many characteristics with starting any business, but there are some significant differences.
In deciding to start a private college, your first step is to assemble a Planning Committee. The Committee should include parents, teachers, leaders in the community, local politicians, and other citizens who have an interest in higher education and who are willing to take on the responsibility. Other interested parties may be local land developers, churches, private corporations, and perhaps other existing colleges in the area. The purpose of the committee is to sign off on facilities, enrollment policies, budgets, etc. and to study other models of private colleges to determine what has worked and what hasn't.
Once you have your business plan in place, you will need to work with your state's Board of Education to ensure that the college will be in compliance with all state educational regulations and laws. You should take your legal counsel on any meeting with the Board of Education to ensure that you are properly represented. Your legal counsel will also advise you on the school's tax options, such as applying for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable status.
Before a college can start accepting students, it needs a degree-granting license. Each state has its own process, but usually you need to submit your university’s curriculum to a committee for review. Some of the most relaxed states—Virginia, Colorado, and Wyoming—don’t require so much as a site visit. In tough-as-nails Maine, inspectors visit your campus, they insisit that all other university presidents must be notified of your application, and a state legislator must introduce a bill to grant your school a license. Without a license, you’re not allowed to advertise your school as a degree-granting institution.
Separate but similar is the accreditation process. Institutional accreditation, granted by regional commissions across the country, certifies that a school meets a minimum standard for recognition by the Department of Education. Without it, a school isn’t eligible to receive federal funding nor can its students get Pell grants (financial aid), and its credits may not transfer to other schools. In most cases, you also need government recognition to enabled you to use ".edu" with your school’s URL. Some organizations, including Teach for America, hire only people who graduated from accredited schools. (Accreditation standards also protect students from enrolling in “diploma mills.”) As part of the review, a school must provide syllabuses for every course, plus biographies of the faculty. You can begin this accreditation process only after your school has graduated its first student. The whole thing usually takes at least a year and costs as much as $30,000. You might also want to get specialized accreditation for a particular program or department in your university. For example, if you wanted to open a culinary school, you’d want to get accreditation from the American Culinary Federation.
Every successful business starts with a well-thought-out business plan. Within a private college business plan you will need to include your strategy for start-up (including teachers and students), your financial plan, educational plan, your accreditation application process, and your plan for fundraising.
In order to start a private college, one of the most important aspects of the process is funding. Sources of funding may include the federal government, philanthropic community members, selling bonds, and even involving the private sector for support. In fact, you may want to hire a fundraiser to take on the task full time.
See an example of the state minimum requirements to get licensed in California: BPPE Minimum Institution Requirements
FAQs about opening a private university in the State of California:
Q: I WANT TO OPEN A DEGREE-GRANTING INSTITUTION. WHAT IS THE BPPE AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT ME?
A: The Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education (bppe) has oversight for all the non-exempt, private postsecondary institutions with a physical presence in California.
The licensing process begins with an application submitted to BPPE which requires a significant amount of information including, among other items, institutional mission and objectives, statements of policies and disclosures regarding financial aid, copies of advertising, description of educational programs offered, statements regarding the institution’s ability to maintain sufficient assets and financial resources to provide education to students, a description of facilities used by students and a description of procedures an institution will use to maintain compliance with the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009.
Q: MUST MY SCHOOL BE ACCREDITED PRIOR TO APPLYING TO THE BPPE?
A: No, but the institution must pursue accreditation in the future.
As of 2015, all degree-granting institutions in the State of California must be accredited. This means that new school applicants must immediately begin pursuing accreditation upon receiving their approval to operate from the BPPE. If the school does not achieve accreditation within the prescribed time frame, it will be orderd to shut down.
Considering the investment you're considering making in your institution, developing a solid plan to carry your institution from the initial BPPE application through to successful accreditation is crucial.
Q: CAN I DO THE APPLICATION MYSELF?
A: Yes. But consider the following...
While the application itself is eight pages long, the average submission packet is 250-500 pages. Further, if you strictly follow the instruction provided on the application, the Bureau will find it to be incomplete. Compiling a complete submission requires an in-depth understanding of the regulations themselves, as these components are not clearly defined on the application form.
You will have to research and understand the application requirements, including mandatory policies and disclosures, establish and document appropriate procedures, and generate all required documents from scratch, such as your catalog, enrollment agreement, student and faculty files, among others.
Meanwhile, you will be actively engaged in the myriad other tasks demanding your attention as you endeavor to open your school. It has been my experience that prospective school owners find it difficult to devote sufficient time to research and understand the requirements, and organize them into a submission that doesn't result in a lengthy Deficiency Letter or Denial from the Bureau.
Q: HOW MUCH DOES THE INITIAL APPLICATION COST? ARE THERE ANY LIMITATIONS?
A: Bureau fees vary, but the basic initial application for approval to operate is $5,000.
Additional fees may apply depending on the number of programs you offer. In addition to the application fee, you must obtain an audited financial statement from a licensed CPA (accountant) to include with your application, regardless of how long your institution has (or has not) been in existence.
How I can help you:
I can offer you a wide range of services to assist you to achieve your vision of establishing a degree-granting institution. I will work with you to develop a detailed business plan and that will incorporate start-up and operational costs and ease the task of applying for licensure from your State’s Department of Education. I will assist you to write the application and create the corresponding exhibits, such as catalogs, enrollments, faculty and staff manuals that are required for approval. I can also assist you with the ongoing management of the college once you have started.