Number 35, February 20, 2007


Since returning in January 2007, the U.S. Senate has been working on a new bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). The provisions are likely to be similar to the Senate bill (S. 1614) from the last Congress. A new bill may be introduced in March of this year. The House of Representatives appears on track to introduce a bill later in the year, with provisions that differ significantly from the bill that was passed in the prior session (HR 609).

We expect that both bills will continue to focus on the same accreditation-related issues as prior bills: student learning outcomes, institution and program performance, transparency, distance learning and transfer of credit. In addition, Congress is monitoring the work of the United States Department of Education (USDE) and its upcoming negotiated rulemaking on accreditation and implications for reauthorization.

The current HEA expires on June 30, 2007.

The 2007 CHEA Agenda For Reauthorization of Higher Education Act

At its January 29, 2007 meeting, the CHEA Board of Directors approved the 2007 CHEA Agenda for Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. This document will serve as the foundation of CHEA's work with the Congress and USDE as reauthorization proceeds.

The 2007 Agenda is similar in many ways to the document approved by the CHEA board in 2003. It calls on Congress to acknowledge the vital and valuable role of accreditation in assuring academic quality and serving students and society. It reaffirms the strength and success of accreditation as a private, decentralized, judgment-based enterprise of self-regulation.

At the same time, the Agenda is a call for additional leadership from higher education and accreditation in addressing the key issues of student learning outcomes, institution and program performance, transparency, distance learning and transfer of credit. While government may hold us accountable for additional progress in these areas, the leadership for developing evidence and information as well as addressing policy and effective practice for student success needs to remain with colleges, universities, programs and accrediting organizations working together.

The Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education: Stutus and Action on Recommendations Related to Accreditation

As reported in HEA Updates 33 and 34, USDE has moved in a number of directions since the release of the report of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education in September 2006. These include working with the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity especially to place additional emphasis on student learning outcomes in the committee's review of individual accreditors, conducting negotiated rulemaking on accreditation and hosting a March 2007 summit on the report's recommendations, including accreditation.

CHEA will participate in negotiated rulemaking as a nonfederal negotiator. CHEA has also been invited to participate in the March summit, including the work group on accreditation.

Here are additional details about both the negotiated rulemaking and the summit.

Recent Developments: Negotiated Rulemaking

As indicated in the Federal Register of January 30, 2007, USDE has scheduled three negotiating sessions. This first is February 21-23, 2007 at the Crystal City (VA) Marriott. The second is March 26-28 and the third is April 24-26. Vickie Schray, Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of Education, is the federal negotiator. She will be working with Kay Gilcher, Senior Policy Analyst. The meetings are open to the public.

The agenda that has been announced for the sessions is as follows:

  1. Due Process
  2. Substantive Change
  3. Monitoring
  4. Relationship of Process Standards to Student Achievement
  5. Measures of Student Achievement
    • Standard Definitions of Terms Related to Student Achievement
    • Quantitative Standards for Programs Leading to Gainful Employment
    • Institutional Accountability
  6. Consideration of Mission in Application of Standards
  7. Transfer of Credit and Acceptance of Credentials
  8. Definition of Terms
    • Direct Assessment Programs
    • Scope of Recognition
  9. Technical and Process Improvements
    • Recognition Procedures
    • Decision-making Authority
    • Record Keeping and Confidentiality of Agency Materials
  10. Providing Information to the Public

According to information shared by USDE in January, the committee's first order of business is the formal adoption of the protocols for the negotiations. After protocols are adopted, the negotiators will finalize the agenda and begin to discuss the substance of the work before the committee. The first negotiating session will be a workshop on the issues to be negotiated.

2006-2007 Title IV Negotiated Rulemaking Committees.

Organizational Protocols

Accreditation Team

I. Mission Statement

The U.S. Department of Education has established this negotiated rulemaking committee to develop proposed accreditation regulations pursuant to Sec. 492 of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA).

II. Participation

  1. The committee consists of the following members:

  2. The member will participate for the purpose of determining consensus. The first alternate will participate for the purpose of determining consensus in the absence of the member. Either the member or an alternate may speak during the negotiations.

  3. With approval by a consensus of the committee, individuals, including specialists, who are invited by a member may participate in committee meetings as needed and appropriate, but are not members of the committee.

  4. The committee may add members. Requests for membership must be approved by a consensus of the committee under such conditions as the committee establishes at the time. New members may begin to participate immediately upon admission to membership.

III. Decision Making

The committee will operate by consensus, meaning that there must be no dissent by any member in order for the committee to be considered to have reached agreement. Thus, no member can be outvoted. Members should not block or withhold consensus unless they have serious reservations about the approach or solution that is proposed for consensus. Absence will be equivalent to not dissenting. All consensus agreements reached during the negotiations will be assumed to be tentative agreements until members of the committee reach final agreement on regulatory language. Once final consensus is achieved, committee members may not thereafter withdraw their consensus.

IV. Agreement

  1. The goal of the committee is to develop proposed regulations that reflect a final consensus of the committee. The Department will provide the preamble to the proposed regulations for review and comment prior to publication of the proposed regulations.

  2. If the committee reaches a final consensus on all issues, the Department will use this consensus-based language in its proposed regulations, and committee members will refrain from commenting negatively on the consensus-based regulatory language, except as provided in paragraph IV D.

  3. If the committee reaches a final consensus on some but not all issues, the Department will include the consensus-based language in its proposed regulations, and committee members will refrain from commenting negatively on the consensus-based language, except as provided in paragraph IV D.

  4. The Department will not alter the consensus-based language of its proposed regulations unless the Department reopens the negotiated rulemaking process or provides a written explanation to the committee members why it has decided to depart from that language. That written explanation will contain a detailed statement of the reasons for altering the consensus-based language and will be provided to the committee members sufficiently in advance of the publication of the proposed regulations so as to allow them a real opportunity to express their concerns to the Secretary. If the Department alters consensus-based language, it also will identify the changes made subsequent to consensus in the preamble to the proposed regulations, and committee members may comment positively or negatively on those changes and on other parts of the proposed regulations.

V. Committee Meetings

  1. The facilitator(s) will maintain a clear and reliable record of tentative and final agreements reached during the negotiation process, as well as discussions of preamble language. The draft meeting summaries will be provided to members, who will share them with coalition partners. After review and approval by the committee, this record will be made available to the public.

  2. The Department will make every effort to distribute materials to committee members in a timely fashion. To the extent practicable, the Department will provide members with documents for discussion at committee meetings at least seven days in advance of the meetings.

  3. A caucus for the purpose of consultation may be requested of the facilitator(s) at any time by any member.

  4. The facilitator(s) will be responsible for developing an agenda for all meetings of the committee. This agenda will be developed in consultation with the members of the committee.

  5. All committee meetings, but not caucuses, are open to the public.

VI. Safeguards for Members

  1. Any member may withdraw from the negotiations at any time without prejudice, by notifying the facilitator(s) in writing.

  2. All members shall act in good faith in all aspects of these negotiations.

  3. Contact with the press will generally be limited to discussion of the overall objectives and progress of the negotiations.

VII. Meeting Facilitation

  1. The facilitator(s) will serve at the discretion of the committee, and will be responsible for helping to ensure that the process runs smoothly, developing meeting agendas, preparing and distributing a record of agreements, and helping the parties resolve their differences and achieve consensus on the issues to be addressed by the committee.

  2. The facilitator(s) will be available to facilitate all meetings of the full committee and, to the extent possible, caucuses.

March 2007 Summit - "A Test of Leadership"

As published in a December 21, 2006 Dear Colleague letter, the summit that the Secretary of Education is convening will bring higher education, accreditation and other sectors together to discuss the recommendations of the Futures Commission. It will be held in Washington, DC, March 21-22, 2007. The work of the summit will focus on five priority areas: (1) aligning K-12 and higher education expectations, (2) increasing need-based aid, (3) using accreditation to support and emphasize student learning outcomes, (4) serving adults and other non-traditional students and (5) expanding affordability through increased transparency of costs.

According to information provided several weeks ago, USDE has created work groups that will be responsible for identifying the top several actions, in advance of the summit, that can be implemented in the next 12 months. One of the work groups will focus on accreditation and student learning outcomes and will be chaired by Geri Malandra, Vice Chancellor for Strategic Management, University of Texas System.

Summit Work Groups

Scope of Work:
Develop a Top Five List for 2007. Actions must be concrete, politically feasible to implement this year, high-leverage, and written specifically to the authority of a stakeholder group (e.g., business, philanthropy, state policymakers, college president, and system head/trustee). Include in the list actions that have demonstrated examples of best practice.

  • Examples of Appropriate Actions for a Top Five List for Aligning High School Standards and College Expectation.
  • University and system governing boards should require that campuses develop college readiness standards in English and mathematics.
  • Statewide governing and coordinating boards should evaluate existing assessments for postsecondary placement and high school assessments for predictive validity.
  • Legislators should provide matching funds to university systems that agree to offer common college placement tests and diagnostic information to high school juniors.
  • State boards of education should adopt new high school course requirements for graduation that minimally meet the American Competitiveness Grant requirements.

Example of an Action that Should not Appear on a Top Five List:

  • Align high school and college assessment tests (not written to any stakeholder, not a concrete step for action in the next 12 months, not specific to which tests are appropriate for next 12 months).

Work Group Composition:

  • Work group members to include no more than 10 other subject-matter experts who know the best practices related to the priority and/or the unique authorities, capabilities, and political will of the key stakeholders with responsibility.
  • Chaired by stakeholder. Chair represents work group and presents Top Five List at the summit's opening panel.

Work Process & Timeline:

  • Chairs receive charge from Under Secretary.
  • Work group staffed by Office of the Under Secretary (OUS) lead for that issue. OUS staff supports chair, manages work flow, and consults with national associations to vet draft recommendations. Overall project editor from OUS maintains consistency in recommendations across work groups.
  • Work group meets (by phone) to discuss relevant Commission recommendations, summit goals, work process, stakeholders to whom to direct recommendations.
  • Work group meets (by phone) to brainstorm Top Five.
  • Work group evaluates draft list and revises to be completed by Friday, March 2, 2007.

Reintroduction of Degree Mill Legislation

On January 31, 2007 Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) re-introduced the degree mill legislation she had proposed in the 109th Congress. The Congresswoman discussed the new bill at the 2007 CHEA Annual Conference recently held in Washington DC. "The Diploma Integrity Protection Act of 2007" (H.R. 773), is cosponsored by Congressman Timothy Bishop (D-NY) and Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). The bill addresses a number of difficult issues related to degree mills.

The major provisions of the bill include:

  1. Definitions of a "degree granting institution," "diploma mill" and "institution of higher education."
  2. A Task Force to determine the characteristics of degree-granting institutions, the feasibility of defining a "fraudulent degree-granting institution," laws and regulations that might be used to address "fraudulent degree-granting institutions" and other related subjects. The Task Force will:
    • develop a plan to protect the federal government against the use of diploma mill credentials to gain federal employment.
    • present legislation for Congress to consider.
  3. A Sense of Congress inviting states to follow the federal lead in this area.
  4. An unfair and deceptive practices provision enforced by the Federal Trade Commission that recognizes accreditation as a key to diploma integrity.
  5. A study to inform the Task Force in its work analyzing:
    • the numbers and types of degree-granting institutions that are not accredited that are legitimate as opposed to fraudulent.
    • why legitimate institutions do not obtain accreditation.
    • steps that can be taken to repair vulnerabilities in the student loan program.

H.R. 773 has been referred to a number of committees in the House, including the Committee on Education and Labor.