House Passes Three Bills As Part of HEA Reauthorization and Updates on Other Legislative Issues
As the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives prepare for their August recess, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is providing an update on recently passed and pending legislation affecting accreditation.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PASSES THREE BILLS AS PART OF HIGHER EDUCATION ACT REAUTHORIZATION
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed three bills as part of reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). First passed in 1965, the HEA governs higher education financial aid and related issues, including accreditation, and must be reauthorized every five years.
As discussed in Federal Update #43, the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act (H.R. 4983) was introduced on June 26, 2014. The bill passed by a voice vote of the full House on July 23, 2014. The bill would make a range of information on colleges and universities available to the public, including completion data, graduation rates, cost of attendance and student debt and loan default statistics. A College Dashboard on the U.S. Department of Education's (USDE) Website would replace the current USDE College Navigator.
The Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act (H.R. 4984) was also introduced on June 24, 2014 and passed on July 24 by a vote of 405-11. The bill requires higher education institutions to provide annual in-person or online counseling to Title IV recipient students, beginning at or prior to the student's acceptance of the loan, as well as directing USDE to maintain an online financial counseling tool.
On July 23, 2014, the House passed the Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act (H.R.3136) - directing the USDE to create and carry out a demonstration project for competency-based education, including access to federal financial aid for students in such programs - by a vote of 414-0. A similar bill (S. 2513) was introduced in the Senate in June, 2014 (see Federal Update #43). The focus on competency-based education and new forms of assessment has increased significantly on Capitol Hill and in the Administration. In December, 2013, USDE published a Federal Register notice seeking ideas for its Experimental Sites Initiative allowing colleges and universities to explore alternative approaches to student learning, including competency-based education, that would be eligible for Title IV student aid.
HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIR ISSUES DISCUSSION DRAFT OF ANTIPOVERTY BILL CONTAINING PROVISIONS ADDRESSING ACCREDITATION
Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chair of the House Committee on the Budget, released a discussion draft from the budget committee on July 24, 2014 aimed at reducing poverty in the United States. Titled "Expanding Opportunity in America," the proposal calls for streamlining the federal student aid system and "disrupting the accreditation status quo." Accreditation-related changes would include easing the federal recognition process for new accrediting organizations to increase competition and support innovation; permitting accrediting organizations to accredit specific courses in addition to institutions and programs; and providing access to federal student aid funding for certain unaccredited education providers such as workforce development education providers.
COMMENTS ON SENATE HEA REAUTHORIZATION DISCUSSION DRAFT DUE BY AUGUST 29, 2014
As described in Federal Update #43, Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) released a 785-page reauthorization discussion draft on June 25, 2014. The draft proposal, which has not yet been introduced, covers a wide range of higher education-related topics tied to Title IV student aid, including increasing college affordability and access and providing more information to the public on college costs and student outcomes. The bill would require accreditation to be more transparent by making available to the public information including site visit reports, self-studies by institutions, accreditors' compliance reports and reports on all adverse actions taken against accredited institutions. Institutions interested in commenting on the discussion draft may send suggestions and recommendations to the HELP Committee at HEAA2014@help.senate.gov by August 29, 2014.