HR 609 Passes the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
On July 22, 2005, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce reported favorably to the House on HR 609 reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. The committee made few significant changes in accreditation-related provisions from the version of the bill reported to the committee by the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness. The subcommittee’s version of the bill was described in CHEA Update #23, including comparing this version with current law. In general, a number of improvements in the accreditation provisions that were in the subcommittee bill were preserved at the full committee.
HR 609 Accreditation Provisions
What follows is a description of the accreditation provisions adopted by the committee. Changes from the subcommittee bill are noted in italics.
- Student Achievement: The bill passed by the committee does not change any subcommittee provisions regarding student achievement. Accrediting organizations would still be required to examine institution or program success with regard to student achievement by taking into account the school’s mission along with other forms of evidence. The subcommittee bill required that institutions provide a summary of student learning outcomes for full-time undergraduates and completion rates for certificate- and degree-seeking students.
- Distance Education: Under the bill approved by the committee, accreditors would still be allowed to review distance education programs without separate accreditation standards. Distance learning and site-based learning do not need to be “comparable.” The committee bill retains the subcommittee provision that would require accreditors to ensure that institutions offering distance education programs have processes to confirm that a registered student is the same student who completes the required work. While the subcommittee bill required accreditors to oversee the growth of distance learning, the bill approved by the committee makes the language of that provision more specific. The committee bill would require accreditors to monitor “the enrollment growth of distance education to ensure that an institution experiencing significant growth has the capacity to serve its students effectively.“ This amendment was offered by Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI).
- Transfer of Credit: The bill approved by the committee retains the “CHEA Transfer Principle” – that institutions are not to refuse to consider transfer requests based solely on the accredited status of an institution as long as the accreditor is recognized by the Secretary of Education. Institutional transfer policies are to be publicly available. The committee bill eliminates the subcommittee requirement that institutions provide information on the percentage of transfer credits accepted.
- Public Information: The bill approved by the committee retains the subcommittee requirement that accreditors make public a summary of their actions involving “final denial, withdrawal, suspension, or termination of accreditation” along with “any other final adverse action.” It does not require accreditors to report on “significant” or “any” findings of all accreditation reviews. The committee bill also retains the subcommittee requirement that accreditors publicly disclose information about their evaluation teams from the prior calendar year, along with the accreditation responsibilities of the team members. The subcommittee bill required that in order to be recognized by the Secretary, accrediting organizations assure that institutions make the college consumer profile information publicly available. Instead, the committee bill would give the Secretary responsibility for publishing the college consumer profile.
- Other Provisions: The bill approved by the committee requires that accreditors consistently apply and enforce standards “that consider the stated missions of institutions of higher education, including but not limited to such missions as inculcation of religious values.” This amendment was offered by Subcommittee Chair Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA).
The bill approved by the committee retains the narrower focus of the subcommittee bill on “board governance” rather than institutional governance, requiring institutional accreditors to evaluate board governance “within the context of the institution’s mission.”
The committee bill retains the subcommittee provisions on “due process” (procedural fairness) in accreditation decisions. The federal recognition standards are modified to include enumeration of key due process provisions: notice, opportunity to be heard, a hearing on the record and the presence of an attorney. In addition, the appeals process must be fashioned such that those involved in an initial adverse accreditation decision cannot participate in its review on appeal.
The committee bill retains the subcommittee section expressing the “sense of Congress” that intellectual pluralism should be promoted and that student speech and association rights should be protected.
The committee bill retains the subcommittee call for a study of best practices in student learning outcomes. The committee bill also retains the subcommittee call for a report by September 30, 2007, on the transfer of credit study originally authorized in the 1998 Higher Education Act reauthorization.
Under current law, a state may serve as a federally recognized accreditor only if it was recognized by the Secretary for that purpose on or before October 1, 1991, and has been continuously recognized since that date. The bill approved by the committee retains the subcommittee provision that removes the date restriction and allows states to become federally recognized accreditors even if they were not recognized on or before October 1, 1991.
The Congress stands adjourned until after Labor Day. We do not know when the full House of Representatives will consider HR 609, although there has been discussion that this will take place in September. There are some ongoing discussions about various amendments, including, e.g., the amendment related to “inculcating religious values.” The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee may introduce a bill in September, but we do not have a sense at this time of what the accreditation provisions might be.
CHEA will continue to analyze the results to date of the House committee action. We will keep you advised of developments related to accreditation and the reauthorization, including efforts to develop amendments between now and when Congress returns.