House Accreditation Hearing and Other Federal Issues

Publication Number 58 May 12, 2017


In This Issue:

House Education Committee holds hearing on accreditation

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on April 27, 2017, titled “Strengthening Accreditation to Better Protect Students and Taxpayers.” In her opening statement, Chair Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) said, “It has never been and should never be the federal government’s role to judge the quality of a school’s education programs. Entrusting independent accrediting agencies with that responsibility protects academic freedom and student choice. However, in recent years, accreditors have been forced to focus on compliance rather than promoting academic integrity, undermining the process and its purpose.”

Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), in his opening statement, said, “Accrediting bodies are the true arbiters of quality in our higher education system.... Over $150 billion in federal student aid is disbursed every year, and it can only go to institutions of higher education that have been accredited by a federally recognized accreditor. As such, there are huge fiscal implications in the quality and rigor of accreditation reviews.”

Witnesses included George Pruitt, President of Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey and a member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) Board of Directors. In his prepared testimony, he stated, “Over the last several years, the Department of Education continually promulgated a series of increasingly intrusive, overreaching regulatory and reporting requirements and made the regional accreditors enforcers of these rules as a condition of federal recognition.” An archived Webcast of the hearing and copies of witness testimony can be found on the Committee’s Website.

Senators Bennet, Rubio reintroduce bill to create alternative to accreditation

On March 13, 2017, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) introduced S. 615, the Higher Education Innovation Act. The bill was originally introduced in 2015 (see Federal Update #49). The legislation creates a five-year pilot program that permits new providers to enter into contracts with the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) as long as they are meeting federally approved performance measures, including student learning, and grant access to federal student aid.

Innovation authorizers would face review that is less complex than the current federal recognition process for accrediting organizations. Organizations, including accreditors, could apply to be designated innovation authorizers.

Senators Warren, Durbin, and Schatz to reintroduce accreditation reform legislation

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) have announced that they plan to reintroduceThe Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act of 2016 (see Federal Update #56). At the CHEA Annual Conference in January 2017 and in subsequent communications with the higher education community, the Senators have provided an opportunity to comment on the legislation. The CHEA Position Paper titled Regulatory Relief for Accreditation opposes legislation that would further expand accreditation-related regulation, such as the Warren/Durbin/Schatz bill first introduced in the 114th Congress.

Teacher preparation rules

On May 9, 2017, USDE published a Federal Register notice revoking the Teacher Preparation Issue final regulations, as published on October 31, 2016. The action is effective immediately. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress passed and the president signed into law on March 27, 2017, a resolution disapproving the teacher preparation regulations as published on October 31, 2016.

Appeals court rules on investigation of accrediting organization

On April 21, 2017, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in the appeal by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on its authority to investigate accrediting organizations.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court decision denying the Civil Investigative Demand (CID), saying “We reach the same conclusion as the district court – albeit on narrower grounds – that is, the CID does not comply with the requirements of the statute," citing CFPB’s “lack of statutory authority over the accreditation process."

As reported in Federal Update #55, CFPB sought information from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) regarding some of ACICS-accredited institutions. ACICS went to court to prevent having to release this information.

Education department publishes accreditation decision letters

In April 2017, USDE began posting decision letters from accrediting organizations for institutions that have received a warning or other adverse notification in USDE’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. USDE, following the Transparency Agenda that the Obama administration announced in 2015, is seeking to inform students and other users of the Website about the status of institutions’ accreditation and provide a link to accreditors’ decision letters.