House Democrats Introduce Bill to Reauthorize Higher Education Act – What Does This Mean for Accreditation?

Publication Number 83 October 16, 2019


On October 15, 2019, Democratic members of the House Committee on Education and Labor introduced a bill to reauthorize the higher education act and overhaul major features of U.S. higher education. The College Affordability Act (H.R. 4674) was announced at a news conference featuring Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), joined by Susan Davis (D-California), Chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment and Mark Takano (D-California), Chair of the Subcommittee on Veterans’ Affairs.

The bill, if its provisions become law, would be a major expansion of federal authority in relation to academic decision-making, setting requirements for the content of some accreditation standards as well as expectations of levels of institutional and program performance. The bill also calls for greater transparency from accreditors. It requires additional conflict-of-interest provisions in relation to accreditation governing boards, thus affecting who can and cannot serve on these boards. In many ways, the bill is a continuation of federal efforts over the past several years to play a stronger and stronger oversight role in accreditation: how accrediting organizations operate, accreditation standard-setting and how accrediting organizations engage the public.

While the 1,200-page bill covers a wide range of higher education-topics, a number of provisions specifically address accreditation, requiring accreditors to:

  • Have completion and workforce participation performance benchmarks. The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) could reject benchmarks considered too low.
  • Have a separate standard for competency-based education (if the accreditor reviews these offerings).
  • Be more transparent about accreditation process and accreditation status.

The bill also would:

  • Shift oversight of the quality of facilities and equipment from accreditors to the states.
  • Strengthen the role of the states in addressing student complaints.
  • Require states to have provisions for school closures.
  • Call on the Secretary of Education to define expenditures on marketing, recruiting, advertising and lobbying; require institutions to report these expenditures annually via USDE’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System; and have a minimum for institutional expenditures on instruction.
  • Place limits on an institution’s outsourcing of educational programs.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) will study this bill closely, follow the bill’s progress on Capitol Hill and keep CHEA members and accreditation stakeholders informed as developments warrant.