CHEA HEA Update Logo Number 32, October 3, 2006

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

On Friday, Sepember 16 2006, Congressman Ric Keller (R-FL), chairman of the House Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness, introduced legislation to extend the Higher Education Act (HEA) until June 30, 2007 (H.R. 6138) ( Committee chairman Howard (Buck) McKeon (R-CA) and Congressman Patrick Tiberi (R-OH) co-sponsored the bill. On Wednesday, September 27, the bill passed the House by voice vote. On Friday September 29 the Senate also passed the legislation.

The passage of this extension seems to be an acknowledgement that Congress will not complete HEA reauthorization legislation before the end of the year. Congressman Tiberi, when speaking to the CHEA Boad of Directors at its September 25-26 meeting, indicated that there was considerable interest in the House in passing a bill in 2006, but a number of other factors would also affect its progress.

H.R. 6138 is different from earlier extension bills in that several additional provisions have been included. None of these are accreditation-related. The bill would:

  • Cancel the student loan debt of the spouses of public servants, such as police and firefighters, who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
  • Cancel student loans made to other victims of the 2001 attacks that are being repaid by the victims’ spouses or parents.
  • Change the rules for grants that the government makes to colleges with large populations of Hispanic students.
  • Revise language for student loan guaranty.
  • Limit the ability of colleges to enter into arrangements in which the school acts like a bank.

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

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings presented the final report of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education ( at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on September 27, 2006 (link Spellings speech). The report, the Secretary’s speech and the Department of Education’s Action Plan ( clearly offer a challenge to accreditation and higher education.

The commission report affirms the important and substantive role that accreditation plays in higher education and society. At the same time, the report calls on accreditation to be more transparent, to focus more on outcomes, to do more to encourage innovation, to strengthen baseline quality expectations, to render the accreditation process more time-efficient, to increase public participation in accreditation governance and to align accreditation activity to allow for comparability with regard to outcomes. Specifically, the recommendations include the following:

  • Remove “accreditation barriers” to new models in higher education
  • Require accrediting organizations to:
    • Act in a more timely manner to accredit new institutions and new programs
    • Focus on results and quality
    • Stop dictating processes, inputs and governance
  • Call on accrediting organizations to:
    • Make performance outcomes, including completion rates and student learning, the core of their assessment, having priority over inputs or processes
    • Establish a framework in which to align and expand existing accreditation standards to:
      • Allow comparisons among institutions regarding student learning outcomes and other performance measures
      • Encourage innovation and continuous improvement
      • Require institutions to move toward world class quality in relation to mission and report measurable progress in relation to their national and international peers
      • Require that the accrediting process is more open and accessible with:
        • Final reviews easily available to the public
        • More public and private sector representation in the governance of accrediting organizations and the conduct of accreditation review

The Department intends to schedule a meeting in November with the accrediting community, institutions and others to discuss accreditation. In addition, the Department announced its desire to hold a broader meeting of the higher education community in the spring of 2007. Beyond this indication of meetings, it is not clear at this time what role the Department intends to play with regard to the accreditation recommendations.

CHEA Meeting of Accreditors

CHEA is convening a meeting of accrediting organizations on October 12, 2006 in Washington, DC to discuss responses to the final report of the Futures Commission, the regional hearings that the Department is holding, the negotiated rulemaking that has been announced, the November Department meeting, as well as other issues related to accreditation and federal policy. The tentative agenda is as follows:

  • Final Report of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education: next steps, regional hearings, negotiated rulemaking
  • Status of reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, anticipating that this will continue into 2007
  • Addressing student learning outcomes and public disclosure: structured experiments related to student learning outcomes; disclosure and determining "what the public needs to know"
  • Other issues as suggested by respondents to the email: transfer of credit, comparability, "public interest," centralization/federalization of accreditation.

The purpose of the meeting is to share information and to identify strategies to maintain the leadership of the accreditation community, working with institutions and programs, in building the future of accreditation.

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 at or to (202) 955-6126.

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