CHEA HEA Update Logo Number 9, May 7, 2004

This Update is a rapid summary of HR 4283, the new major bill on higher education that is explained below. CHEA’s preliminary reaction is concern and alarm. Our Update seeks to inform interested parties quickly and alert them to the need to contact key members of Congress in the near future. CHEA will prepare and distribute a more detailed analysis shortly. We will confer with institutions, other higher education associations and accrediting organizations about the best ways to influence the legislation at this key juncture.

The bill addresses accreditation issues that CHEA and others have raised throughout the Higher Education Act (HEA) Reauthorization. It contains elements to strengthen accountability that we have advocated. But, unlike our proposals, numerous provisions of the bill go far beyond improving self-regulation under current accreditation processes. The bill would authorize major governmental intrusion in matters of academic quality in higher education. The bill would make accreditors examine and approve many educational aspects better left to institutions. In many ways, it would federalize the quality assurance of higher education. CHEA and many other higher education associations and organizations are expressing strong concerns about these provisions. We want the higher education community to examine the proposed changes in the federal laws on accreditation and bring their concerns to the Congress.

New Bill Completes GOP Blueprint for HEA

The Republican education leaders of the House released their comprehensive plan for reauthorization of HEA on Wednesday, May 5, 2004. The new bill, HR 4283, proposes several important changes in federal law on accreditation issues addressing distance learning, transfer of credit, student learning outcomes and accreditation public reporting requirements. Overall, HR 4283 requires expanded public information on college costs and other areas, spells out major new policies for student loans, expands participation of proprietary schools in federal programs and allows more distance learning students to utilize federal grants and loans. The full text is available at

Comprehensive, Partisan and Moving Ahead

The massive (203 page) bill text incorporates some GOP proposals already introduced as separate bills over the last year. There are no Democratic co-sponsors for HR 4283, signaling partisan disputes as it moves forward. Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) of the full Education and the Workforce Committee wants to bring this bill through his committee quickly, so that the full House could pass it this summer. Historically, many parts of HEA legislation have been introduced with bipartisan support and have moved much more slowly. With this bill, however, Democrats have introduced alternate approaches in the loan and grant programs and have expressed reservations about other major provisions. Mr. Boehner has proved himself a capable chairman with a disciplined committee. It remains to be seen if the proposed schedule can be achieved. The Committee plans a hearing on the new bill on Wednesday, May 12, 2004. Other legislative action is expected shortly thereafter.

Accreditation Proposals

Based on a strong theme of empowering consumers with better information, the bill mandates that accreditors produce a public summary of their actions and findings when accreditation status is granted or renewed. Both institutions and accreditors would be required to meet many new reporting requirements on a variety of accreditation issues. Failure to meet legal requirements by institutions could lead to loss of eligibility for federal funding. Failure by accreditors to meet requirements could lead to loss of federal recognition.

On student learning outcomes, the bill revises the current statutory requirements for accreditors and requires institutions to state the learning objectives for their programs. There are many new reporting requirements relating to outcomes.

The bill revises the provisions on distance learning that were in HR 3039 introduced last fall. These provisions were outlined in HEA Update #3. In the new bill, accreditors would need to evaluate the capacity of institutions to deliver distance learning. They would need to demonstrate to federal officials that the quality of distance learning in institutions that they accredit is comparable to classroom settings. And accreditors must evaluate how institutions ensure the integrity of their distance learning programs, as well as monitor their growth.

On transfer of credit, the new bill modifies the approach introduced last October in HR 3311 (to which we raised strong objections). The new bill has ten separate transfer of credit provisions: five for institutions, four for accreditors and a federal study. They include disclosures of institutional transfer policies and their basis, requirements for objective criteria uniformly applied and several new transfer data reporting mandates. Accreditors would need to review institutional transfer policies and practices, confirm that they are consistent, and monitor their inclusion in institutional public reports. They are also barred from certain policies or practices that restrict transfers solely on the basis of which organization accredited the school sending the credits proposed for transfer. This last policy element has long been embraced and promulgated by CHEA. It is explained in greater detail in our HEA Update #6.

In sum, the new bill, HR 4283, would maintain the basic federal compact with private voluntary accreditation as the principal means of quality assurance in federally supported programs. However, it alters the compact in several ways that are problematic for the self-regulation of academic quality. CHEA suggestions for improvements in earlier proposals are visible in several key areas, including distance education, transfers and learning outcomes. But these fail to achieve a balanced approach. The new bill would demand significant new reporting from institutions and accreditors, and add new federal government requirements for institutional policies and public reporting in academic areas of measuring student learning outcomes, in distance learning and for decisions on credit transfers. It would mandate more complicated reviews of distance learning, producing additional work and new scrutiny for both institutions and accreditors. Beyond those major areas mentioned above, there are many other troublesome provisions, such as adding institutional “governance” to the standards accreditors must use in reviewing institutions.

Next Steps: Analysis and Response

HR 4283 requirements add many new and expensive burdens on institutions and accreditors, and all of these are unfunded. It brings the federal government into key areas previously left to academic decision makers. CHEA anticipates seeking your further help in contacting the Congress on these accreditation issues in the bill. We will soon provide a full analysis that outlines the concerns. Where appropriate, we will also propose better approaches.


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 (CHEA®). Please direct any inquiries or comments to or to 202 955-6126.

Copyright 2004 Council for Higher Education Accreditation. All rights reserved.