National Associations Reply to Congress on HR 4283

Publication Number 13 June 1, 2004

On May 26, 2004, a number of national higher education associations provided written comments and suggestions to the Congress on the pending Higher Education Act (HEA) proposals in the Republican House Bill, HR 4283. This followed three weeks of intensive deliberations by the associations among their staffs and consultations with their respective members. Since the bill’s introduction on May 5, the provisions on accreditation have received more attention than any other issue.

The American Council on Education (ACE) convened a number of discussions and provided to Congress a broadly based reply covering all the major issues in this comprehensive HEA reauthorization proposal. CHEA provided a reply directed to the accreditation-related provisions. This was the product of the general deliberations with national associations as well as reviews of drafts offered to all the CHEA-recognized accreditors. The large national associations each undertook their own member consultations and expressed strong reservations about the accreditation proposals in HR 4283.

Associations Oppose Accreditation Proposals

ACE President David Ward was joined by forty-four other higher education organizations (see below) in urging major changes to the bill. While offering to work with the Congress toward a bill that the higher education community would support, Ward said that the forty-five associations could not support the bill in its current form.

On accreditation, the letter states:

“We also worry about the impact of the bill on accreditation and transfer of academic credit. Both are absolutely central to the academic integrity of colleges and universities. But this bill comes close to making accrediting agencies administrative arms of the Department of Education and to federalizing the transfer of credit. At a minimum, such steps will move decision-making and authority on academic matters from campus officials to federal bureaucrats. At worst, it will significantly alter the relationship between the government and higher education.”

Organizations signing the ACE community letter include all of the six largest presidential organizations (known in Washington jargon as “the Six”), as well as CHEA, the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA) and eleven accrediting organizations. A list of the signing organizations appears at the conclusion of this Update. The full text of the letter and its extensive attachments is available at here. In addition to the Ward statement cited above, the attached “concerns and suggestions” document details six problem areas in accreditation (pp. 7-11). It goes on to oppose the transfer of credit provisions and strongly urge deletion of the so-called “Academic Bill of Rights” proposals (pp. 11-12).

Views of Individual Associations

The Association of American Universities (AAU), representing the large public and private research universities, also took a strong position opposing the HR 4283 accreditation proposals. Nils Hasselmo, the AAU president, wrote the Congress on May 26, saying:

“Accreditation is a non-governmental function that relies upon peer review and self-evaluation. This accreditation structure has long been key to the academic quality and integrity of universities and colleges. Accreditation relies on the academic and professional judgments of knowledgeable and objective academic experts, not government officials. Unfortunately, H.R. 4283 threatens to turn accrediting agencies into agents of the Department of Education. The bill assigns significant new federal responsibilities to accreditors that are inappropriate and intrusive and that would impose new burdens and costs on universities and colleges. The extensive accreditation changes in the bill would begin to transform accreditation from a mechanism for ensuring high academic quality to a mechanism for federal intrusion into the affairs of universities and colleges. Problematic areas include new requirements for review of institutional practices in governance, transfer of credit, and the disclosure of information.”

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) stated much the same view, when its president, David Warren, wrote:

“The areas in which we believe there is inappropriate federal intrusion are well enumerated in the ACE letter, and include transfer of credit, student speech and association rights, regulations on college price setting, student outcome measures, governance, and accreditation. In a similar vein, the bill also moves toward an inappropriate level of state involvement in the activities of independent, private higher education, by permitting states to become accreditors.”

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) stated its view simply as:

“We support the comments of the group of associations regarding the issues of accreditation and transfer of credit, particularly regarding new reporting requirements.”

CHEA Letter to Congress

As outlined above, CHEA consulted broadly in developing its May 26 reply. We appreciate the participation and guidance we received in this process. For the most part, we heard strong opposition to the accreditation-related provisions of HR 4283. Our letter to Congress reflects these views, lists those positive improvements in the bill that we support, provides concrete suggestions in several areas and offers our continued work with the Committee and their staff to develop a better bill. The full CHEA response is a two page summary letter with a ten-page attachment that addresses all 27 accreditation-related provisions of the bill. Our attachment explains each provision, cites its location in the bill and the current HEA law, and states the CHEA view on the proposal. CHEA was also instrumental in the development of the ACE letter discussed above and gathered accreditation organizations to co-sign that community position.

Next Steps

The Republican leadership of the House Education and the Workforce Committee plans another hearing on HR 4283 in mid-June. It is unclear if the lack of support from the higher education community expressed in the May 26 replies will alter the Committee’s plans to move the bill forward. After the hearing, the next legislative step would be a formal “markup” by the subcommittee. No markup date has been announced.

CHEA continues to urge institutions and organizations with interests in these HR 4283 accreditation provisions to contact the Congress expressing their views. Our HEA Update # 10 suggests how to do so and Update # 11provides talking points. Now that the ACE community letter and the CHEA letter are publicly available, you may quote or cite them as you see fit in contacting the Congress.

Organizations Signing May 26, 2004 Letter on HR 4283

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
American Association of Colleges of Nursing
American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine
American Association of Community Colleges
American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities
American Association of State Colleges and Universities
American Association of University Professors
American Board of Funeral Service Education, Committee on Accreditation
American College Personnel Association
American Council on Education
American Dental Association
American Dental Education Association
American Veterinary Medical Association, Council on Education
Association of Academic Health Centers
Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools
Association of American Medical Colleges
Association of American Universities
Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs
Association of Community College Trustees
Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design
Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities
Association of Seventh-day Adventist Colleges and Universities
Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors
Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area
Consortium on Government Relations for Student Affairs
Council for Advancement and Support of Education
Council for Christian Colleges & Universities
Council for Higher Education Accreditation
Council for Opportunity in Education
Council of Independent Colleges
Division of Higher Education Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lutheran Educational Conference of North America
National Association for College Admission Counseling
National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education
National Association of College and University Business Officers
National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
National Association of Schools of Art and Design
National Association of Schools of Dance
National Association of Schools of Music
National Association of Schools of Theatre
National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges
National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators
National Collegiate Athletic Association
New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education