HEA Reauthorization Bill Introduced in Senate and Updates on Other Federal Issues

Publication Number 45 December 3, 2014


On November 20, 2014, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), introduced the Higher Education Affordability Act to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). First passed in 1965, the HEA governs higher education financial aid and related issues, including accreditation, and was last reauthorized by Congress in 2008.

The 874-page bill includes language directly addressing accreditation.The bill would require accrediting organizations to make documents available to the public, including institutional self-studies, accreditation team site visit reports, accrediting organizations’ reports on compliance with accreditation standards, performance with respect to student achievement and reports on all adverse actions taken against accredited institutions or programs, with supporting documentation.The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) would be required to provide a Webpage with a single point of access to these accreditation documents.

The bill is similar to a discussion draft of HEA reauthorization legislation released by Harkin on June 25, 2014 (see Federal Update #43). In response to Harkin’s request for comment on the discussion draft, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) provided a letter, coordinated a letter from CHEA and the accreditation community and signed onto a higher education association letter. In its letter, CHEA urged that any changes to the law or regulation governing accreditation be designed to clarify and strengthen accreditation’s primary focus on academic quality, in contrast to requiring that accreditation take on responsibilities unrelated to quality assurance.

Harkin will retire from the Senate at the end of the year and action on this legislation is unlikely, but the bill may provide a guiding document for Democrats’ priorities in reauthorization legislation to be drafted by the incoming Congress.


Republican members of the U.S. Congress voted on November 19, 2014 for Representative John Kline (R-MN) to continue as Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. As a result of the midterm elections, Republicans will increase their majority in the House (247 Republicans and 188 Democrats) and will become the majority in the Senate (53 Republicans, 44 Democrats, two Independents and one seat in Louisiana to be decided by a runoff election on December 6, 2014).

In a statement following the vote, Kline noted that strengthening higher education will be among issues at the forefront of the committee’s agenda in the 114th Congress that convenes in January 2015. Other committee leadership elections will be held in January. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is expected to continue as Chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, with Robert Scott (D-VA) likely to replace the retiring George Miller (D-CA) as Ranking Democrat on the Education Committee.

In the Senate, Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is likely to become Chair of the HELP Committee, with Patty Murray (D-Washington) becoming the Ranking Democrat. Elections for Senate Committee leadership positions will be held when the new Congress convenes. For more on what the midterm elections mean for accreditation, read CHEA President Judith Eaton’s November 17, 2014 commentary in the Washington, DC political newspaper Roll Call.


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, will meet on December 11, 2014 in Arlington, Virginia to review reports from four accrediting organizations and two state agencies.

At this time, the agenda includes review of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), New York State Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education (NYSBR) and the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WASC-SR); and recognition of a state approval agency for vocational education, the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education (OKSB-vt).

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.


On December 3, 2014, USDE published a Federal Register notice of proposed regulations intended to enhance performance and improve accountability of teacher preparation programs. The proposed regulations include provisions addressing the assessment and reporting requirements for teacher education programs. The notice provides institutions, accrediting organizations and other interested parties with an opportunity to comment on the proposed regulations.

USDE previously held a negotiated rulemaking, with sessions taking place from January 18, 2012 through April 12, 2012 to develop proposed regulations. "Negotiated rulemaking" is a process by which the federal government consults with key constituents as part of drafting or revising regulations that implement legislation passed by Congress. The negotiated rulemaking committee did not reach consensus on proposed regulations, leaving USDE free to propose the regulations as considered by the committee or with revisions to those proposals.