Higher Education Reauthorization: A Senate Bill Introduced and Passed

Publication Number 39 July 25, 2007

On Tuesday, July 24, 2007, after weeks of negotiations with the higher education community and a day and a half of debate, the Senate voted 95 to 0 to approve S. 1642 reauthorizing Higher Education Act (HEA). The bill will extend authority for the federal government’s higher education programs for five years. The amended version of this bill is a significant improvement over the committee bill reported out on June 20.  Key changes for accreditation in the amended version are:

(Student Achievement) Accrediting organizations are to examine institutional success with regard to student achievement in relation to institutional mission. The standards may vary by institution and are to be established by institutions.  Eliminated in the bill passed by the Senate is the laundry list of government-specified outcomes indicators (e.g., student retention rates, course completion rates) as well as the language about “empirical evidence” and “external indicators” that was in the committee bill.
(Transfer of Credit) The amended language on transfer of credit does not prescribe the content of an institution’s transfer of credit policy as was contained in the committee bill.  Accrediting organizations are to review institutions to assure that schools (1) have a transfer of credit policy and (2) make this policy public, including criteria for transfer of credit earned at another institution.
(National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, NACIQI)The bill would eliminate NACIQI and, within 30 days of enactment, establish an Accreditation and Institutional Quality and Integrity Advisory Committee, which would advise the Secretary with respect to recognition of accrediting agencies.  The Committee would have 15 members, 5 appointed by the Secretary, 5 appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representative and 5 appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate.

In the weeks leading up to floor consideration of the bill, Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Ted Kennedy’s (D-MA) staff, Senator Michael Enzi’s (R-WY) staff, Washington higher education associations and accrediting organizations met to discuss the accreditation provisions in S.1642.  Senator Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) staff met separately with many of the same groups in an effort to understand and address the concerns of the higher education community and work to improve the bill.  These meetings and substantial negotiations brought about major changes in the accreditation section of this legislation.

All of the accreditation-related changes in the final bill are consistent with the 2007 CHEA Reauthorization Agenda as approved by the CHEA Board of Directors. The modifications go a long way toward the CHEA goal of greater accountability, but led by higher education, not by government. CHEA was able to play a significant role in bringing about this welcome result, working closely with the Washington higher education associations and accrediting organizations.

Attached is a chart describing the major accreditation-related provisions of S. 1642. The chart compares current law with S. 1642, including student achievement, transfer of credit, public information, distance education, federally required disclosures, due process, and NACIQI.

Although the Senate has completed its work on reauthorization, the House has yet to write a bill and we are told that the House is likely to take up reauthorization in September. CHEA will continue to work on all accreditation issues of interest and concern.