CHEA HEA Update Logo Number 27, October 24, 2005

HEA Update #26 provided detailed information about key accreditation provisions of H.R. 609 – the House Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bill – that passed the House Education and the Workforce (HEW) Committee on July 22, 2005 and analogous provisions of S.1614 – the Senate HEA reauthorization bill – that passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on September 8, 2005.

This Update provides information about what has transpired since September 8 – a complicated scenario that involves not only efforts of the higher education community to alter provisions of both bills, but also Congressional actions related to Hurricane Katrina as well as continued pressure for budget reconciliation or agreement in Congress to cut spending on mandatory federal programs, including those that affect higher education. While there has been considerable discussion about some of the accreditation provisions in the bills, e.g., probation, representation of counsel, religious mission and transfer of credit, we do not have any specific action to report at this time.

As explained in detail below, S. 1614 has been attached to the HELP Committee’s reconciliation package.  H.R. 609 has been reported out of committee, but the HEW Committee may decide to attach H.R. 609 to its reconciliation package. There have been discussions about changes to the House bill that, as we understand it, will be available in a “Manager’s Mark” for floor consideration or as part of the HEW Committee’s reconciliation package.

A key timing issue is whether or not the reauthorization bills will be addressed as part of the House and Senate reconciliation bills, as opposed to as stand-alone pieces of legislation. If so, the sense is that reauthorization is more likely than not to be concluded by the end of this calendar year. If not, reauthorization is likely to continue into 2006. Whether or not the reauthorization bills go through the legislative process as part of reconciliation will depend at a minimum on whether Congress proceeds with reconciliation – a matter about which there is considerable doubt – and on whether the HEW Committee attaches H.R. 609 to its reconciliation package.

Senate Committee Approves Reauthorization as Part of Reconciliation

On October 18, 2005, the HELP Committee attached S. 1614 to its budget reconciliation measure and approved the entire package by a vote of 15-5.  Reauthorization coupled with reconciliation may move faster than reauthorization alone, because reconciliation is a congressional priority. Indeed, the Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to consider the entire budget reconciliation bill on October 26, 2005. However, efforts to seek floor amendments to HEA reauthorization provisions may be severely hampered: While a simple majority is typically needed to amend legislation, 60 votes are needed to amend a budget reconciliation bill.

As discussed in earlier HEA Updates, Congress has charged the committees to recommend a total of $34.7 billion in spending cuts over five years for purposes of deficit reduction, a process referred to as budget reconciliation. Under the budget reconciliation instruction, the HELP Committee must produce $13.65 billion in savings. The reconciliation package passed on October 18, 2005 would produce the required savings through approximately $7 billion in cuts to student loan programs and approximately $6.65 billion in cuts to pension benefits. The HELP Committee used additional savings generated by S. 1614 to fund Hurricane Katrina relief and grant aid for low-income students through the reconciliation measure. We understand that the package included technical changes to the reauthorization bill that the HELP Committee approved on September 8, 2005. We will send you a report on key changes after we have reviewed them.

Situation in the House is Unclear

House leadership reportedly seeks to increase the reconciliation instruction to $50 billion over five years. Under the current reconciliation instruction, the HEW Committee must propose $12.7 billion in savings. H.R. 609 would save approximately $8.7 billion through the student loan program. At this time, it is unclear what action the HEW Committee will take with respect to reconciliation and whether it will attach H.R. 609 to its reconciliation package. If the HEW Committee does not attach H.R. 609 to its reconciliation package, then reauthorization may in effect be dropped from the Senate reconciliation package. House committees must submit reconciliation plans to the House Budget Committee by October 28, 2005.

The HEW Committee has moved forward with HEA reauthorization despite the uncertainty related to reconciliation. On September 22, 2005, H.R. 609 was reported out of committee. The HEW Committee report can be found at We understand that Chairman John Boehner is working on a “Manager’s Mark” for purposes of floor action. A “Manager’s Mark” is a legislative device whereby the bill’s sponsor substitutes new language agreed upon by committee members.

Congress Extends Higher Education Act
In the meantime, on September 30, 2005, President Bush signed the Higher Education Extension Act of 2005 (Act).  The Act continues all mandatory and discretionary HEA programs through December 31, 2005, with no changes or amendments to those programs.  The Act was necessary because the law otherwise would have expired on September 30, 2005.  Representative Boehner and five co-sponsors originally proposed a six-month extension, but the Senate reportedly pushed for a three-month extension.

GAO Issues Report on Transfer of Credit
On October 18, 2005, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on transfer of credit, titled Transfer Students: Postsecondary Institutions Could Promote More Consistent Consideration of Coursework by Not Basing Determinations on Accreditation. As requested by Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Representatives Boehner (R-OH) and Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), GAO examined (1) how postsecondary education institutions make transfer of credit decisions, (2) how states and accreditors facilitate transfer of credit process, and (3) the implications of student inability to transfer credit. The report recommends that Congress amend the HEA to prohibit credit-transfer denial solely on the basis of the sending institution’s type of accreditation. This language, if included in H.R. 609 and S. 1614, would codify a principle that CHEA, working with a task force of individuals from accrediting organizations, institutions and associations, developed some five years ago.

What's Next?
Reconciliation has muddied the waters with respect to the process and timetable relevant to HEA reauthorization. Many Republicans and Democrats have questioned whether Congress should proceed with reconciliation – which is not required and is rarely done – in part because the needs for disaster relief arising from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have created unexpected financial demands on the federal government. We may have a better sense over the next couple of weeks as to whether Congress will proceed with reconciliation and the related implications for 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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