CongressLooks to 2004 on HEA

Publication Number 2 November 14, 2003

With most of the attention in Congress on finishing appropriations, reaching agreement on prescription drugs and pondering international challenges, the higher education leadership can look ahead to next year. Now is the midpoint of the 108th Congress, and the end of its first session. All pending legislation carries over to the second session, beginning in early January. 2004 is an election year and the present Congress and its committees continue without structural changes. The Congress can start quickly in January, but most legislation must be completed by the summer, when everyone will concentrate on the presidential and congressional elections. Partisan wrangling will increase as the elections draw near. For the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization, this means most of the action will be in the first half of 2004. It will be busy.

NACIQI Meets in Early December

The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) will meet in Washington on December 8 and 9, 2003. The present chair, Dr. Robert Andringa, is a former legislative aide who worked on the HEA in the 1970's. Several other members of the Advisory Committee also have legislative experience. At its last meeting in June, the Advisory Committee devoted an unprecedented amount of time and energy to HEA reauthorization. This work produced two documents: a formal letter to the Secretary of Education expressing officially their general policy views on HEA reauthorization, and a second, unofficial document representing the individual views of the chair and several members. This unofficial document was submitted on behalf of seven Advisory Committee members, acting as individuals, to the Republican staff of the House education committee. It contained seven major proposals in legislative language to revise accreditation provisions of the HEA. The most important topics were student learning outcomes, disclosure of accreditation results, transfer of credit.

CHEA had concerns about several NACIQI members proposals, although Congressional leaders had made their intensions clear to include some of these topics in a revised HEA. Over the summer, CHEA and several other national higher education associations worked with Dr. Andringa on his proposals. Most of the original proposals were modified, and Dr. Andringa gave these modifications to the committee staff in September, on behalf of himself, CHEA and the other associations. Aside from credit transfers, the House committee staff has not yet indicated how it will address these issues.

The Advisory Committee has invited the CHEA President to appear at the meeting on December 8 to present our views on the pending HEA developments. A report on these developments and other NACIQI actions will appear in the next Update following the meeting.

The Petri Bill: Breaking the Federal Link

One of the most significant developments in 2003 for accreditation in HEA was the introduction in February of HR 838, by Congressman Petri of Wisconsin. Following a list of findings that accreditation was not serving federal interests, the bill breaks the 50 year-old link between accreditation and the eligibility of institutions for federal programs. It also abolishes the NACIQI. The same bill was also introduced in 2002, but no action was taken.

Neither party in the House education committee has shown much interest in HR 838, and the Senate committee has not yet focused on this proposal. It has no co-sponsors, and no Senate version. Most legislators say they want to keep accreditation as the means of federal quality assurance; and many seek to assign additional federal tasks to accreditation.

However, the importance of the proposal lies in its clarity of purpose. If accreditation was NOT a condition for federal eligibility, how would the government assure that its funds supported only quality education programs and institutions? Supporters of HR 838 seem to have no answer, beyond using natural (non-governmental) market forces to weed out sub-par performers. If the federal linkage was broken, the federal controls, present and proposed, would also disappear. With the Congress considering a wide range of onerous new accreditation provisions that intrude on both institutional and accreditor activities, this tradeoff is worthy of further analysis.