Hearings on Issues Related to Higher Education and Accreditation

Publication Number 15 March 31, 2011


Issues related to higher education accreditation have received considerable attention recently on Capitol Hill and at the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). This Federal Update provides an overview of the many activities affecting accreditation in recent weeks.

Hearings on Issues Related to Higher Education and Accreditation

Several recent hearings by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives addressed higher education and accreditation. The Senate hearings concentrated on for-profit higher education and accreditation‘s oversight of for-profit institutions and programs, while the House hearings focused on the burden new federal regulations pose for colleges and universities as well as accrediting organizations.

  • Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) convened a March 10, 2011 hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to address “Bridgepoint Education, Inc.: A Case Study in For-Profit Education and Oversight.” (Click here for witnesses and testimony.) With no representative from Bridgepoint Education appearing at the hearing, questions from Senators focused principally on how accrediting organizations are addressing issues related to for-profit higher education.
  • The Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security held a hearing on March 2, 2011 on “Preventing Abuse of the Military’s Tuition Assistance.” (Click here for witnesses and testimony.) The hearing, convened by Subcommittee Chair Tom Carper (D-Delaware), addressed issues related to the Department of Defense’s Tuition Assistance Program and for-profit higher education.
  • On March 1, 2011, the House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing on “Education Regulations: Weighing the Burden on Schools and Students.” (Click here for witnesses and testimony.) While much of the hearing, convened by Committee Chair John Kline (R-Minnesota), focused on K-12 education, the regulatory burden on higher education institutions was also discussed.
  • Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and the Workforce, convened a hearing on March 11, 2011 addressing “Education Regulations: Federal Overreach into Academic Affairs.” (Click here for witnesses and testimony.) Republican and Democrat members of the Committee asked questions about the regulatory burden of USDE’s final program integrity rules, issued on October 29, 2010 with an effective date of July 1, 2011.


Higher education associations and accrediting organizations worked together to draft and send several letters to USDE concerning the Department’s final program integrity rules. The community letters included positions taken by CHEA in comments to USDE submitted on July 29, 2010.

  • The February 16, 2011 letter expressed concern with the creation of a federal definition of credit hour and requested that USDE remove the definition from the final regulations.
  • The March 2, 2011 letter voiced concerns regarding the state authorization regulations – noting that the final regulations expand and complicate existing federal requirements – and requested that USDE rescind the entire state authorization rule.
  • The March 10, 2011 letter asked for USDE’s assistance in obtaining a one-year extension in the effective date for the credit hour and state authorization regulations, noting the challenges that institutions, accrediting organizations and states will face in implementing these two rules.

USDE “Dear Colleague” Letters on Program Integrity Final Rules

In March, USDE issued two “Dear Colleague” letters, addressing various aspects of the final program integrity rules.

  • The March 17, 2011 letter provided additional guidance on three areas of these final regulations: state authorization, incentive compensation and misrepresentation. The letter noted that this guidance does not make any changes to the regulations.
  •  The March 18, 2011 letter provided information concerning the definition of a credit hour and guidance on implementing the final regulation and does not make any changes to the final rules.

Both of the “Dear Colleague” letters leave a number of questions unanswered and contain language that presents new questions regarding interpretation of the final regulations. USDE is expected to provide information on other provisions of the program integrity regulations in additional “Dear Colleague” letters.

Senate Letter to USDE on Program Integrity Final Rules

Seventeen Republican members of the U.S. Senate sent a letter on March 23, 2011 to USDE Secretary Arne Duncan to request that the Department withdraw the final program integrity rules, saying the new regulations will negatively affect post-secondary education. The letter asked USDE to work with Congress to ensure that program integrity regulations do not unfairly affect academic independence.

MInnesota Higher Education Advisory committee letter to senate

In a letter sent on March 22, 2011 to Senator John Kline, Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, members of the Minnesota Higher Education Advisory Committee expressed concern regarding USDE’s expanded state authorization requirements addressing online programs. The letter requested that Congress seek a delay of implementation of the regulations until July 1, 2013.

CHEA will continue to urge that credit hour and state authorization provisions be removed from the final program integrity rules. We will keep member institutions and recognized accrediting organizations informed on all developments related to these new regulations and the ongoing Congressional attention to accreditation.