Higher Education

Duane Morris has represented numerous public, private, nonprofit and proprietary colleges and universities, accreditation agencies, and other groups and businesses dedicated to education. Our lawyers understand the unique needs of academic institutions and can provide efficient and cost-effective legal counsel. Because the needs of educational institutions are diverse, Duane Morris lawyers from different disciplines work together to represent clients and advance their interests.

  • Our People Are Our Greatest Asset: We offer a highly experienced and skilled team with legal, regulatory, business and policy savvy. The most impactful education developments that shape the future occur at the intersection of law, policy and business, and our clients rely on a team that can provide trusted advice on all three areas. Our core Education team draws on multifaceted, real world experience to offer valuable legal insight, informed policy perspectives and the “in-the-trenches” knowledge that comes from owning and operating schools. Specifically, our team includes: a former proprietary school owner; a former senior executive at a publicly traded proprietary institution; former employees at higher education institutions with compliance responsibilities; a former education association senior leader; four former or current education association board members; and two former congressional aides with education policy and active lobbying experience.
  • Our Education Focus Is Essential to Our Results: Our team focuses on the regulatory environment in which schools and colleges of all types operate, including state licensing, accreditation and federal regulation (Department of Education, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security/foreign student visas). Our goal is to help advance institutions’ educational missions on a day-to-day basis by guiding compliance initiatives, providing legal advice, informing strategic decisions and, when necessary, defending schools in court, agency forums, arbitration proceedings and other venues.
  • Policy Development and Advocacy: Clients benefit from our team’s deep understanding of and experience with the federal policymaking process in Congress and in federal agencies. Duane Morris has helped clients build strong and lasting relationships with policymakers. We also craft legislation, assist with legislative formulation, provide testimony and help position clients as key resources for policymakers.

For More Information

For more information, please contact Keith Zakarin or any of the group members referenced in the Attorney Listing.

Areas of Concentration

Title IV Eligibility & Compliance

Higher education is a highly regulated industry. Federal government regulation of Title IV student financial aid funding is by far the biggest risk to higher education institutions and their investors. Duane Morris attorneys counsel institutions regarding all Title IV laws and regulations applicable to postsecondary institutions, including but not limited to institutional, student and program Title IV program eligibility requirements, program review and audit resolutions, risk management systems and policies, consumer protection regulations, Title IX and Clery Act compliance and Department of Education change-of-ownership requirements in the context of school purchases and sales. We also counsel clients regarding federal guidelines governing marketing and recruiting practices, third-party vendor relationships, student privacy regulations, student visas and a variety of other legal and regulatory issues impacting educational institutions of all sizes.

Duane Morris attorneys also are active in monitoring and engaging in the federal legislative process on Capitol Hill on behalf of firm clients.

Accreditation & State Licensure

The Title IV regulatory schema goes beyond federal regulation to the rest of the “triad” of regulation that also includes state licensing agencies and accreditors. Duane Morris lawyers have extensive experience in the area of accreditation of educational institutions, including both regional and national institutional accreditors, as well as the various programmatic or specialized accreditors. This involves advising institutions in the normal processes of obtaining and maintaining accreditation, providing representation in adverse or negative accreditation actions and navigating the complex processes of changes of control, governance and ownership.

Corporate Law & Governance

In representing academic institutions, the firm has handled a variety of general corporate matters, including revising corporate, institutional and faculty charters and bylaws; assisting in the recomposition of boards of trustees; providing advice on corporate governance and business strategies; and consulting on general contractual matters. Our lawyers have also advised academic institutions on mergers and other affiliations and on the sale of securities, as well as permissible uses of restricted funds and other assets.

Labor & Employment

Many legal problems can be avoided and the risk of litigation reduced by implementing sound personnel policies and practices. Consequently, we emphasize our role as counselors in reviewing employment documents (such as employment applications and manuals, faculty, staff and student bylaws, policies, handbooks, job descriptions, evaluation forms, proposals relating to alternatives to tenure and the like) and auditing employment practices (such as hiring, discipline, grievance adjusting and accommodating the disabled). We not only seek to ensure our clients’ compliance with applicable laws and regulations, but also attempt to maintain our clients’ flexibility in managing their operations as they think best while reducing the likelihood of protracted disputes with employees, unions and government agencies.

The firm has advised many educational institutions in matters relating to faculty issues, including program elimination, faculty tenure and other policies. The firm has also represented many educational institutions in numerous, diverse personnel matters. Our work has involved all areas of state and federal regulation of the employment relationship, including employment discrimination, personnel policies, faculty and staff grievance and equal opportunity procedures, employment contracts, wage and hour, occupational safety and health (OSHA), union-organization attempts, collective bargaining and unlawful picketing, and reductions in force.

Our lawyers have assisted several schools in compliance with state and federal equal employment and affirmative action requirements, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. We have successfully defended colleges in resolving and litigating discrimination claims, including claims of sexual harassment and race, sex and age discrimination. We have also represented educational institutions in issues of student sexual harassment, retaliation, discipline and other issues.

Similarly, we have provided extensive counseling on wage payment and overtime issues, as well as compliance with OSHA. We have advised schools in their dealings with unions attempting to organize employees, faculty and staff. In those cases where unions already represent employees, we have negotiated labor contracts on behalf of the institutions. We advise institutions concerning construction projects on campus, including obtaining preliminary injunctions of unlawful picketing.

Lobbying & Policy

Duane Morris attorneys have significant experience representing clients before key policymakers in Congress and in the Executive Branch. Our Education team member in our Washington, D.C. office has over two decades of experience assisting organizations with defining and advocating their policy goals at the federal level and is well-versed in the Lobbying Disclosure Act and other requirements that are part and parcel of federal legislative advocacy on behalf of educational organizations. Another Education team member led the federal and state advocacy efforts for two publicly traded higher education companies with locations in dozens of states and was the chair of the federal legislative committee of a national trade association representing proprietary schools.

Mergers, Acquisitions & Other Transactions

We regularly represent buyers and sellers of educational institutions, including both principals and investors. This highly-specialized, complex legal work requires a thorough understanding of the regulatory, accreditation and business dimensions of these unique transactions, including the federal, state and accreditor change-of-ownership rules that are vital to maintaining regulatory compliance before and after a school sale.

Private Equity

Duane Morris attorneys regularly represent private equity funds, management groups and lenders in navigating the maze of legal and regulatory complexity that is part and parcel of investing in the education space. Our clients include portfolio companies focused on K-12 and higher education, education technology, training, and the education services sector (marketing and recruiting, administration and distance learning).

Our Education and Private Equity lawyers are experienced in addressing every stage of the investment process, including due diligence, acquisition, portfolio operation and exit. This highly specialized legal work requires a thorough understanding of the regulatory, accreditation and business dimensions of these unique transactions. The seamless cross-discipline team approach of our Education and Private Equity practice groups provides clients with the right blend of knowledge and experience necessary to invest in the highly regulated education sector.

Financing

The firm has advised educational institutions on financing matters, including conventional bank loans. As bond counsel, we have rendered opinions on the issuance and sale of bonds, assisted in the financing and structuring of bond issues and prepared enabling legislation and constitutional amendments. Our lawyers have supervised bond issuance proceedings and prepared documentation related to the authorization, issuance, sale and delivery of bonds. We have assisted issuers and others in preparing disclosure documents and have obtained approvals, rulings and exemptions from governmental authorities.

Our lawyers have counseled academic institutions on the applicability of federal and state securities laws; the eligibility of bonds for investment by various fiduciaries and other regulated investors; the status of bonds and related obligations under creditors’ rights laws; and the enforceability of security agreements, indentures and other documents related to bonds and their security. We have also assisted in presenting information to bond rating organizations and bond insurers.

Education Litigation, Investigations and Administrative Appeals

Our lawyers have represented educational institutions in a variety of litigation, including defense of actions by terminated employees and personal injury matters. We have frequently advised colleges, universities, schools and school groups on their insurance needs and have represented numerous institutions in claims arising under general liability and other insurance coverages. The firm also represented an academic institution in actions within the ambit of its self-insurance program. We have advised a number of institutions on matters relating to municipal challenges to their tax-exempt status and have successfully resolved a number of such challenges.

Student Litigation

We have exceptional depth and breadth of experience defending universities and colleges against claims brought by students. We have handled thousands of such claims, whether individual or class action, in court or in arbitration, or before administrative agencies.

Regulatory Response & Crisis Management

It is essential that institutions are provided the best-possible, real-time strategic advice and support during a regulatory or other crisis. The operational and reputational challenges facing organizations and their executives and directors are significant, especially as the higher education sector sees increased federal, state and accreditation oversight; increased investigatory and litigation activities by the SEC, CFPB, FTC and attorneys general; constant media scrutiny; and a litigious student population. Through decades of legal and industry experience, Duane Morris attorneys have developed excellent relationships with senior personnel at higher education regulatory bodies and work proactively with clients to both prevent a crisis from arising and manage any crisis that may arise. Our team is available 24/7, at multiple locations, to address emergencies as they arise and to address proactively prevention and compliance.

Student Relations

Our lawyers have advised universities, colleges, schools and school groups in a variety of student-related matters. We have provided counsel in numerous disciplinary matters and have addressed the legality of accessing students’ records and searching students’ dormitory rooms. Our lawyers have also reviewed and suggested revisions to student handbooks. We have consulted on potential liability associated with alcohol on campus and have developed policies on alcohol and controlled substances. In addition, we have provided advice on student health issues, including infectious diseases and issues relating to the provision of emergency psychiatric care.

Intellectual Property

Duane Morris’ intellectual property practice is based on the premise that intellectual assets, including property protected by patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, are of extraordinary value to our clients. The firm’s practice in this area is extensive and includes advising individual and corporate clients regarding patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets; providing comprehensive opinions; assisting in license negotiations; and procuring proprietary rights in all forms of intellectual property. The firm represents several universities with major research programs in all areas of technology. We have assisted educational institutions in commercializing their technology.

We are also a national leader in the area of lead generation agreements, and related intellectual property transactions. This unique area presents an intersection of intellectual property law and regulatory overlay.

Other Services

Deferred Giving, Estates and Taxation

Duane Morris has advised educational institutions, nonprofits and charities with respect to charitable contributions received either directly or in the form of various types of deferred giving. Our lawyers have consulted on such complex deferred giving matters as charitable remainder unitrusts and annuity trusts, gift annuities and other donative concepts.

The firm has also advised educational institutions and other charities with respect to their entitlement to bequests and other distributions from estates. This typically has involved reviewing documents and communicating with counsel for those estates.

In addition, our lawyers have counseled educational institutions and other charitable organizations with respect to federal income tax matters under the Internal Revenue Code, including tax-exempt status and the unrelated business income tax and issues particularly related to colleges and universities. We have also counseled academic institutions with respect to various state laws exempting certain charities from income and other taxes and pending legislation.

Real Estate, Construction and Environmental Law

Duane Morris has advised academic institutions on the ownership and operation of real estate holdings and has provided representation in real estate development activities. Our lawyers have assisted clients in transferring, acquiring and leasing real estate, obtained zoning and land use approvals and negotiated and prepared architect and contractor agreements. We have negotiated and documented financing arrangements for college projects and have represented academic institutions in real estate tax exemption hearings. The firm has also advised educational institutions concerning compliance with environmental laws and regulations and has litigated environmental cases in federal and state courts.