Accreditation reform legislation announced

Publication Number 56 September 23, 2016



On September 22, 2016, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) announced that they are introducing the Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act of 2016. Click here for a copy of the bill and click here for a fact sheet.

Some of bill’s provisions include:

  • Requiring USDE to establish standards for student outcome data to be used by accrediting organizations when reviewing and evaluating colleges and universities, including student graduation rates, loan repayment rates, loan default rates and job placement rates, and setting minimum standards that colleges must meet.
  • Requiring that accrediting organizations carry out an enhanced accreditation review immediately upon learning of any fraud investigations or lawsuits by federal or state governments and requiring that accreditors take action in the case of any warning signs of institutional instability.
  • Increasing the information that accrediting organizations must provide to USDE and make publicly available and directing accreditation to establish common definitions for accreditation statuses and actions.
  • Giving the Secretary of Education increased authority to fine accreditors or terminate recognition under a variety of conditions.

Commenting on the announcement of the legislation, Judith Eaton, President of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, stated “The Warren/Durbin/Schatz is yet another indication of the shifting demands on accreditation. Accreditation is now called upon to play a more vigorous public accountability role – to do more to protect students and inform the public. This is in addition to accreditation’s longstanding role in assuring and improving quality, working with institutions and programs. The bill is part of efforts to provide more direct oversight of accreditation by the federal government, whether through the Congress or the U.S. Department of Education.”


“The Access, Success, and Persistence in Reshaping Education Act of 2016” was introduced by Senators Chris Coons (D-Delaware) and Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) on September 21, 2016. Click here for a copy of the bill.

The legislation requires that, within four years, more-selective colleges and universities with lower numbers of low-income students boost low-income student enrollment or pay a fee to participate in Title IV student aid programs. High-access, low-performing colleges would have the option to get up to $8 million over five years to improve student outcomes. These resources – generated through the fees collected from schools that do not improve low-income student enrollment – are to be accompanied with new minimum completion standards, applicable to all four-year institutions choosing to participate in federal financial aid programs.


The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced on September 22, 2016, its decision to terminate recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). Click here for a copy of the USDE letter to ACICS. The action follows a recommendation in June 2016 by USDE’s National Advisory Council on Institutional Quality and Integrity – the advisory body that provides recommendations to the Secretary of Education on recognition of accrediting organizations – that USDE deny recognition to ACICS (see Federal Update #54).

Following the USDE announcement, ACICS said that it plans to appeal the decision (click here to see the ACICS statement). Schools accredited by ACICS will remain accredited pending outcome of an appeal and a possible legal challenge if one is filed. Should the decision by USDE stand, ACICS-accredited institutions then would have 18 months to find a new accreditor. Failure to obtain new accreditation within that timeframe would mean that students at those institutions would no longer be eligible for federal financial student aid.