CHEA HEA Update Logo Number 12, May 21, 2004
 
CONSULTATIONS CONTINUE ON HEA BILL

Since we issued CHEA Update #11 on May 14, 2004, the Washington-based higher education associations and national, regional and specialized accreditors have had several conference calls and meetings to discuss a response to the House bill on reauthorization introduced on May 5, 2004 (HR 4283). The Washington-based associations have also had two group discussions with the Hill, one with House Republican staff and another with House Democrat staff, to present our preliminary views on the bill. These associations agreed to provide specific responses, pro and con, to the House staff in writing by May 26.

 
Good News and Bad News

As CHEA Updates #9 and 10 indicate in detail, the good news about HR 4283 is that it starts by incorporating several policy positions offered by CHEA and others with regard to transfer of credit, student learning outcomes, distance learning and information to the public. The bad news is that, through its 27 accreditation-related provisions (!), the bill takes major additional steps to extend federal control over the academic decision making of colleges and universities as well as accreditation itself.

HR 4283, in many areas, replaces self regulation of academic quality through accreditation with expansive government regulation of both institutions and accreditation. For example, the bill calls for “objective criteria” for transfer of credit decisions, diminishing the traditional role of faculty in this vital academic area. It requires that institutions report student learning objectives of programs and offers academic criteria for judgment of the quality of distance learning, undermining the historic – and essential – independence of higher education institutions in matters of academic quality.

 
Reactions

As we reported in our last Update, many higher education associations and accrediting organizations have had a “strong and largely negative” reaction to the accreditation-related provisions of the bill. A key exception is the response of six directors of regional accrediting commissions who, on May 11, sent a letter to the House committee supporting the accreditation provisions of the bill. This does not include the New England Association of Schools and Colleges’ Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE). Given the intrusiveness of HR 4283 and recognizing the importance of unity in these matters, we regret that six of the regionals reacted to the bill without consultation with the greater higher education community.

CHEA and the other Washington-based associations are coordinating responses to the May 26 date for written positions. Each organization is consulting its constituents, developing its own response and sharing this information with other associations. At some point, all interested parties will need to determine whether to try to improve the bill through various suggestions or whether to oppose some or all of the provisions.

 
What’s Next

Timing for the bill remains unclear. The House committee overseeing reauthorization plans to hold a second hearing in the second week in June. No date has been set for bill mark-up by the committee or for HR 4283 to go to the House floor. We do not know if or when the Senate will introduce a bill. Completion of reauthorization in 2004 remains quite uncertain.

We will continue to keep you informed about HR 4283 through CHEA Updates. If you have concerns about this pending legislation, we urge that you contact your member of Congress. Talking points that may be useful are available in CHEA Update #11.

 
 

This Update will inform interested parties on developments in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). It was prepared by Gregory Fusco, Vice President for Government and Public Affairs at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEAŽ). Please direct any inquiries or comments to fusco@chea.org or to 202 955-6126.

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