CHEA HEA Update Logo Number 26, September 15, 2005

Senate Committee Passes HEA Reauthorization Bill

On September 8, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (“HELP Committee”) passed unanimously S. 1614, the Senate bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. In contrast to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s debate regarding H.R. 609, the HELP Committee took a bipartisan approach to S. 1614. Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the bill on Tuesday, September 6. Two days later, the HELP Committee held a hearing to consider the bill. At the beginning of the hearing, Senator Enzi introduced a substitute amendment that replaced the bill as introduced on September 8. After little debate and no amendments, the Committee voted unanimously to approve the substitute amendment.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has concerns about S. 1614 as passed, but we understand that there will be opportunities to improve the bill as it moves to the Senate floor. On September 7, the higher education community, including CHEA, sent the HELP Committee a letter stating its concerns regarding S. 1614. CHEA flagged to the community (for purposes of inclusion in the letter) an eleventh hour addition to the bill that would require accreditors to confirm that an institution bases its transfer of credit policies on “criteria established in guidelines developed by the institution’s admissions committees.”

CHEA has prepared a chart comparing current law to accreditation-related and other provisions of H.R. 609 and S. 1614. It addresses the following topics: distance education, transfer of credit, information to the public, due process, missions of religious institutions, states as accreditors, governance, student achievement, and intellectual pluralism and student speech. In general, CHEA views S. 1614 as an improvement over H.R. 609, because it would make fewer changes with respect to accreditation. For example, unlike H.R. 609, S. 1614 would not require accreditors to disclose publicly information about evaluation teams, would not open the door to additional state accreditors, and would not require accreditors to evaluate board governance. Although S. 1614 would require accreditors to respect the religious missions of institutions, it does not employ the “inculcation of religious values“ language that is in H.R. 609. However, S. 1614 does take a broader approach than H.R. 609 with respect to certain matters, such as requiring accreditors to monitor institutional growth generally, not only with respect to distance education, and requiring public disclosure of probation decisions.

What’s Next?

We understand that the HELP Committee is considering amendments to S. 1614 and may finalize that process as early as the end of the week. We also understand that plans to consider further H.R. 609 have been delayed in light of Hurricane Katrina. Under a process called reconciliation, Congress has charged the committees to save a certain amount of money from the programs under their jurisdiction for purposes of deficit reduction. Both the Senate and House Committees have sought to develop HEA reauthorization bills that comply with the reconciliation instruction. The needs for disaster relief arising from Hurricane Katrina create financial demands on the federal government that may delay the budget reconciliation process and thereby HEA reauthorization. CHEA continues to work with Congress and the higher education community on accreditation issues in reauthorization. We will keep you informed of our efforts and progress.

This Update will inform interested parties on developments in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Please direct any inquiries or comments to or to (202) 955-6126.

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