Alternative to Accreditation Bill Introduced in Senate and Other Federal Issues
SENATORS BENNET, RUBIO INTRODUCE BILL TO CREATE ALTERNATIVE TO ACCREDITATION
On September 30, 2015, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced S. 2111 that establishes an alternative, outcome-based quality review process to authorize “innovative, high-quality education providers” to participate in Title IV. The bill establishes “innovation authorizers” to undertake quality review based on stipulated performance measures of student learning, completion and affordability/benefit to students. Innovation authorizers must meet measures established by USDE for student outcomes and undergo a review similar to but less complex than the current federal recognition process for accrediting organizations. Organizations, including accreditors, could apply to USDE to be designated innovation authorizers.
The authorizers would review “eligible entities” – new providers described in the bill as offering education in the form of course bundles or leading to industry-recognized credentials. These providers may offer certificates or degrees as well. The description in the bill suggests that, e.g., private companies offering coursework but not degrees or companies that offer massive open online courses as well as degree-granting colleges and universities could be eligible entities. An eligible entity scrutinized by an innovation authorizer based on the performance measures in the bill would then be eligible for student aid.
The bill proposes changes in student aid as well, with a requirement that eligible entities demonstrate validated outcomes over a multiple-year period in order to achieve and sustain eligibility. The amount of aid would vary based on the number of years of evidence of successful outcomes. It also includes pay-for-performance contracts for entities with little track record in student outcomes.
In short, the pilot would test federally approved alternatives to accreditation, federal performance measures for higher education providers, including student learning, and performance-based access to federal student aid.
SECRETARY OF EDUCATION ARNE DUNCAN TO STEP DOWN AT END OF 2015; JOHN R. KING, JR. TO LEAD U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced that he will leave office in December, 2015. Duncan has served as Secretary of Education since 2009.
On October 2, 2015, President Obama named John B. King, Jr. to run the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) on an interim basis for the remainder of his administration, rather than nominating a new Secretary of Education. King currently is Deputy Secretary of Education, where he serves as a senior advisor to Secretary Duncan on K-12 issues. He joined USDE in January, 2015 after serving as New York State Education Commissioner from 2011 to 2014.
LEGISLATION TO EXTEND PERKINS LOAN PROGRAM AND NACIQI NOT PASSED BY SENATE
Legislation passed by the House of Representatives on September 28, 2015 to extend the Federal Perkins Loan Program by one year failed to move forward in the U.S. Senate by October 1, thereby allowing the program to expire. Loans made through Perkins are federal student loans for undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need.
The House legislation included a provision that would have extended for a year USDE’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) – the advisory body that provides recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Education on the recognition of accrediting organizations – as well as the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. The continuing budget resolution passed by the Senate and House of Representatives on September 30 extended NACIQI until December 11, 2015, but not the loan program or the student financial aid committee. For NACIQI to continue activity after December 11, Congress will need to pass further legislation.
NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON INSTITUTIONAL QUALITY AND INTEGRITY SCHEDUED TO MEET DECEMBER 16-18, 2015
Acknowledging that further Congressional action is needed for the committee to continue work past December 11, NACIQI is scheduled to meet December 16-18, 2015 at a location in the Washington, DC area to be announced.
At this time, the agenda includes review an application for initial recognition of the Association of Institutions for Jewish Studies; applications for renewal of recognition of the American Board of Funeral Service Education, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education, the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council, the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education and the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences, Inc.; compliance reports from the Accrediting Commission for Education in Nursing, the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges; applications for renewal of recognition of the Kansas State Board of Nursing, Maryland Board of Nursing, New York State Board of Regents (Nursing Education and Public Postsecondary Vocational Education), the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, the Pennsylvania State Board for Vocational Education Bureau of Career and Technical Education and the Puerto Rico State Agency for the Approval of Public Postsecondary Vocational, Technical Institutions and Programs; and a substantive change notification by the United States Air Force Institute of Technology, Graduate School of Engineering and Management.
Recognition by USDE affirms that the standards and processes of accrediting organizations and state accreditation approval agencies demonstrate compliance with USDE's criteria for recognition and that these accrediting organizations and state agencies are reliable authorities regarding the quality of the education or training provided by the institutions or programs they accredit.
SENATE COMMITTEES HOLD HEARINGS ON STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT AND STUDENT SUCCESS
The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a hearing on September 30, 2015 on USDE and student achievement. The hearing focused on the cost of education, student debt and student achievement and on how USDE can help assure that both K-12 and higher education meets the needs of society. Accreditation’s role was addressed in the testimony of the three witnesses: Kevin Carey of New America, Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell and Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
The witnesses, some of whom have longstanding concerns with accreditation, spoke to the issues of innovation, accountability and rigor. Mitchell noted “Accreditation has a vital role to play in accountability and ensuring that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. Accreditation is of critical importance to students, since academic quality control depends on its rigor and effectiveness.” He said that USDE and NACIQI “are looking at many ways to increase the rigor in accreditation.” Copies of witness testimony and a Webcast of the hearing are available on the Committee’s Website.
In other Senate activity, the HELP Committee held a hearing on August 5, 2015 that addressed college completion, student debt and the role government can play in encouraging graduation. This is the most recent of a series of HELP Committee hearings on higher education. A hearing Webcast and copies of witness testimony are available on the HELP Committee Website.
HOUSE EDUCATION COMMITTEE CHAIR TO RETIRE AT END OF 2016
Congressman John Kline (R-MN), Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, announced on September 3, 2015 that he will retire at the end of 2016. He has served as Chair of the Committee on Education and the Workforce since January, 2011. Kline has said that passing HEA reauthorization legislation, which may be introduced in 2015, will be a key focus for him throughout the election year of 2016.