CHEA HEA Update Logo Number 29, March 8, 2006

HEA Update #28 provided information on congressional developments during November and December 2005. This Update provides information on congressional developments during January and February 2006 and provides details on a new bill related to accreditation.

Thus far, 2006 has been relatively quiet with respect to Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization, in part because of recent leadership changes in the U.S. House of Representatives. As expected, in February President Bush signed legislation that amends certain provisions of the HEA (please see below). But much of HEA reauthorization remains undone and it is feasible that Congress will turn its attention to reauthorization in the next few months.

Changes in House Leadership

On February 2, 2006, House Education and the Workforce Committee (HEW) chair John Boehner (R-OH) was elected Majority Leader for the Republican Conference. Subsequently, Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) was named to replace Boehner as chair of the HEW Committee. McKeon, who has served on the HEW Committee since 1993, was the chair of the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness since 1995. On March 1, 2006, Chair McKeon named Representative Ric Keller (R-FL) chair of the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness.

Deficit Reduction Act Reauthorizes Student Loan Program
and Addresses Distance Education

On February 8, 2006, President Bush signed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. At least one lawsuit has been filed to challenge the constitutionality of the Act on the grounds that it was not enacted in accordance with requirements pertinent to the legislative process. As described in HEA Update #28, the Act reauthorizes the federal student loan program but generally does not address non-budget-related education policy matters that are continued in the pending HEA reauthorization bills, namely H.R. 609 and S. 1614. The Act, which is generally effective on July 1, 2006, also amends certain provisions of the HEA. For example, the Act effectively repeals the 50 percent rules, which limit distance education course offerings and enrollments at institutions that participate in federal student financial aid programs. In addition, under the Act, a distance education program is eligible for federal student financial aid purposes if a federally recognized accreditor that has evaluation of distance education within the scope of its recognition has determined that the institution has the capability to deliver distance education programs effectively.

HEA Reauthorization Status

On February 28, 2006, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee (HELP) issued its report on S. 1614. As reported in HEA Update 28, the HELP Committee reported S. 1614 out of committee on November 17, 2005, but it did not release an accompanying report at the time. The HEW Committee reported H.R. 609 on September 22, 2005. Because S. 1614 and H.R. 609 have been reported by the relevant committees, both bills are available for floor action. At this time, neither the House nor the Senate has scheduled floor action on their respective bills.

In accordance with the Second Higher Education Extension Act of 2005, the HEA is set to expire on March 31, 2006. Congress likely will pass another extension of the law; it seems doubtful that it will have completed comprehensive reauthorization by that date.

New Bill on Due Process in Accreditation

On February 16, 2006, Representative Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA) introduced H.R. 4795, a bill to amend HEA provisions related to accreditation. The bill focuses on due process, accreditation standards related to institutional governance and state accreditors. The attached chart compares current law to H.R. 4795, H.R. 609 and S. 1614.

What’s Next?

The prospects for HEA reauthorization in 2006 remain uncertain. We understand that Representative McKeon aims to achieve floor consideration of H.R. 609, but the Senate’s plan is unclear. CHEA continues to monitor Congress and to work with the higher education community on accreditation issues in reauthorization and other legislation pertinent to higher education, particularly accreditation. 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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