Congressional and USDE Leaders Address 2014 CHEA Annual Conference, House and Senate Hearings Continue, A New Round of Negotiated Rulemaking, College Affordability Bill
CONGRESSIONAL AND U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION LEADERS ADDRESS ACCREDITATION ISSUES AT CHEA 2014 ANNUAL CONFERENCE
Leaders of key committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the Acting Under Secretary of Education and the chair of the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity addressed plenary sessions at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) 2014 Annual Conference, held January 27-29 in Washington, DC.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, told conference attendees that he hopes Congress will reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) in 2014. He stressed the need for greater accountability and transparency in accreditation, saying that more must be done to monitor institutions and raise the bar for quality in higher education. Harkin also said that the accreditation community needs to do more to build public awareness of what accreditation does.
Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, addressed the conference by video. In her remarks, she criticized existing “overreaching regulations” governing higher education and accreditation and said that the reauthorization will provide the opportunity to find ways to streamline the accreditation process. Foxx also emphasized that she believes accreditation must play a role in finding solutions to make college more affordable.
Jamienne Studley, Acting Under Secretary of Education, and Susan Phillips, Chair of the 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 – participated in a panel discussion of issues ahead for USDE, including design and implementation of a College Ratings System (see Federal Update #38). Studley said that USDE plans to develop a first draft of the ratings system by the middle of 2014, with the goal of publishing it in the 2015 school year. Phillips noted that she has seen new issues emerge in the last several years for accreditation, including the growing importance of college affordability and increased emphasis on innovation. She urged the accreditation community to provide suggestions for the College Ratings System and how the reauthorization needs to address accreditation.
HOUSE CONTINUES SERIES OF HEARINGS ON COLLEGE ACCESS AND AFFORDABILITY
The House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held additional hearings on the topic of “Keeping College Within Reach” (see Federal Update #37). The series of hearings, which began in June, 2013, is designed to provide information on a range of higher education-related issues as Congress begins the process of reauthorizing the HEA.
The December 3, 2013 House hearing on “Strengthening Pell Grants for Future Generations” explored proposals for revising the Pell Grant program to better support low-income students. A subsequent hearing on January 28, 2014 addressed “Sharing Best Practices for Serving Low-Income and First Generation Students,” highlighting ways colleges and universities are working to expand access for low-income students. Copies of witness testimony and archived videos of the hearings are available on the subcommittee’s Website.
NEGOTIATORS ANNOUNCED FOR USDE NEGOTIATED RULEMAKING ON PROGRAM INTEGRITY
USDE has announced the negotiators for an upcoming negotiated rulemaking to develop proposed program integrity and improvement regulations. Issues to be addressed will include state authorization of courses and programs offered through distance education or correspondence education and for foreign locations of institutions located in a state.
USDE indicated, In a November 20, 2013 Federal Register notice, that the negotiated rulemaking is also likely to address topics including (1) the use of debit cards and the handling of Title IV credit balances, (2) clock to credit hour conversion and (3) the definition of ‘‘adverse credit’’ for borrowers in the Federal Direct PLUS Loan Program. The negotiated rulemaking committee will meet in Washington, DC, February 19-21, March 26-28 and April 23-25, 2014.
BILL TO ADDRESS COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY INTRODUCED IN THE SENATE
On January 29, 2014, Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT) introduced the “College Affordability and Innovation Act of 2014." The bill (S. 1969) is cosponsored by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and has been referred to the Senate HELP Committee.
The bill would create an independent commission of students, faculty and other education stakeholders to “develop minimum accountability standards for making college more affordable, providing better access for middle- and low-income students and providing value to students.” USDE would reward schools that meet or exceed the standards by giving them competitive grants, funded with penalties paid by consistently underperforming schools. Schools that consistently underperform would be “incentivized” through requirements that they come up with plans to meet the standards within five years and pay a percentage of the Title IV funding they receive as fines if they fail to improve. Schools that do not meet accountability standards within five years would become ineligible for Title IV funding.