CHEA HEA Update Logo Number 31, September 7, 2006

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

It is increasingly improbable that reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) will occur in this session of Congress. Although the House of Representatives passed a reauthorization bill in March 2006 (H.R. 609), the Senate has not acted on the bill (S. 1614) that emerged from the Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) in November 2005. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) has stated that he wants to pass a number of legislative items before lawmakers return to the campaign trail at the end of September. His public agenda does not include the reauthorization of HEA. Although some senators are still trying to schedule HEA for mid-to-late September, there is little evidence of a concrete commitment to bring this up.

While a number of HEA provisions related to student aid were acted upon in another bill, the Higher Education Reconciliation Act passed in 2005, accreditation-related provisions have yet to be addressed. These include the key issues of information to the public, distance education, student achievement and transfer of credit. Click here for a chart comparing current law with the Senate committee bill and the bill passed by the House.

If there is no action on reauthorization this year, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce has indicated that it will take it up early in the next Congress, although this does not mean that H.R. 609 will be reintroduced in its current form. The House also has to address reauthorization of the “No Child Left Behind” Act in 2007; this is likely to consume a great deal of time and effort, perhaps reducing the attention that can be given to HEA reauthorization.

The most recent extension of HEA expires on September 30, 2006. The length of a further extension of current law will tell us a great deal about the likelihood of HEA coming to the floor of the Senate and the likelihood of a conference prior to the election or during a lame-duck session of Congress.

The Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education

The Commission released the latest draft of its report in August 2006 at a meeting in Washington DC. The final report will be issued by mid-September. Accreditation has been a prominent issue in the commission’s deliberations during the past year. The draft report, while acknowledging the importance of accreditation, also discusses the need for a significant change, including increasing transparency, increasing attention to student learning outcomes, encouraging innovation, making the process more time efficient and increasing public participation.

CHEA has been engaged with the commission for a number of months, providing testimony, offering suggestions with regard to accreditation-related issues and help to bring the accrediting community and the commission members and staff together. The interaction has been useful; the current draft of the report is more positive toward accreditation than earlier versions.

Of considerable significance to higher education and accreditation is the Department of Education’s indication that it will hold a series of regional meetings to discuss, among other issues, the commission report. Four regional meetings will be held between now and November 9, 2006:

September 19, 2006: Berkeley, California
October 5, 2006: Chicago, Illinois
November 2, 2006: Orlando, Florida
November 8, 2006: Washington, DC

The Department also intends to establish negotiated rulemaking committees to prepare proposed regulations under Title IV of HEA. Negotiated rulemaking is scheduled to take place between December 2006 and March 2007. One of the committees will address accreditation issues (Title IV, Part H, Subpart 2). Each committee will include representatives of organizations or groups with interests that are significantly affected by the subject matter of the proposed regulations. Accrediting organizations have been identified as one of those constituencies.

Degree Mills

Degree mills continue to be a cause for concern for legitimate higher education, students, the public, government and employers. The credentials offered by legitimate providers of higher education and accreditation are diminished by the presence of fraudulent accreditors and purveyors of fraudulent credentials. Degree mills and, at times, their companion accreditation mills, are also cause for concern to accrediting organizations that need to distinguish their reliable scrutiny of academic quality from dubious providers of higher education.

CHEA hosted a meeting on degree mills and their impact on higher education and accreditation on July 11, 2006 in Washington, DC. Staff from congressional offices and federal agencies and officials from four states that had recently passed new degree mill legislation or modified existing legislation were present. Representatives from several of the major Washington, DC-based higher education associations attended a portion of the meeting. Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) has been developing legislation on degree mills and joined the meeting to discuss her pending bill.

On July 28, 2006, “The Diploma Integrity Protection Act of 2006” (H.R. 6008), was introduced by Congresswoman McCollum with Congressman Bishop (D-New York) and Congressman Grijalva (D-Arizona) as original cosponsors. The bill addresses a number of difficult issues related to degree mills.

The major provisions of the legislation 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 but are legitimate versus those that are fraudulent.
    • why legitimate institutions do not obtain accreditation.
    • steps that can be taken to repair vulnerabilities in the student loan program.

H.R. 6008 has been referred to a number of committees in the House, including the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

What’s Next?

CHEA continues to monitor Congress and to work with the higher education community and accrediting organizations on accreditation issues in reauthorization and to prepare for introduction of HEA in 2007, if necessary.

The Futures Commission report is not final, but the substance is known. CHEA will continue to work with the commission and Department of Education on accreditation issues such as transparency, student learning outcomes and other accountability issues as the Secretary moves forward with regional meetings and negotiated rulemaking. CHEA will be engaged in both the public hearings scheduled by the Secretary and during negotiated rulemaking.

The introduction of H.R. 6008 during this session of Congress has started an important phase of the longstanding discussion concerning degree mills. CHEA will work with accreditors, higher education associations, Congress and the Department on this legislation or the reintroduction of similar legislation next session.

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 Jan Friis, Vice President for Government Affairs, at or to (202) 955-6126.

Copyright 2006, Council for Higher Education Accreditation. All rights reserved.