Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

Publication Number 36 March 26, 2007

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are initiating action on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) has been holding bipartisan discussions in preparation for a new bill. The starting point for these discussions is Senate bill S. 1614 from the last session of Congress. Senate staff are discussing an introduction and mark-up of a bill in the committee in April. In addition, Senate staff are monitoring the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) negotiated rulemaking on accreditation.

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor is circulating a letter signed by Committee Chair George Miller (D-CA), Ranking Member Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), the Chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness, Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) and Ranking Member Ric Keller (R-FL). The letter invites various stakeholders to share “best ideas for ensuring that the promise of the HEA is fulfilled for this generation of students….”  The requested submission date for these proposals is on or before April 13, 2007.  After suggestions are received, the Committee will draft legislation that is likely to be introduced late this summer.

The current HEA expires on June 30, 2007.

Negotiated Rulemaking on Accreditation

The second session of negotiated rulemaking on accreditation is scheduled for Monday, March 26, 2007 at the Holiday Inn in Crystal City, Virginia.  USDE emailed proposed rules to be discussed at the meeting on Thursday, March 22. The proposed language significantly expands federal regulations that address student learning outcomes, due process and information to the public, as well as a number of other areas. It calls for regulatory oversight of transfer of credit.

As previously reported, Vickie Schray, Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of Education, is the federal negotiator. She is working with Kay Gilcher, Senior Policy Analyst, who has been drafting the issue papers.  David Bergeron, Director, Policy and Budget Development Staff, USDE, is playing a large role in this process. Judith Eaton, President of CHEA, is participating in negotiated rulemaking as a nonfederal negotiator. 

The third and final session of negotiated rulemaking is April 24-26. The meetings are open to the public.

Negotiations on Trade in Services

CHEA and the American Council on Education (ACE) have been working with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) for several years concerning the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). GATS negotiations have included higher education and accreditation, subjecting both to trade agreement considerations.

Most recently, CHEA and ACE met with representatives of the USTR in January 2007 to once again express concern about the current offer involving higher education and accreditation as proposed by the United States.  Following the meeting, a letter was prepared for signature by the members of the Washington Higher Education Secretariat, the 50 Washington-based higher education associations, to memorialize these concerns. This letter was sent on March 6, 2007.  USTR has not yet responded.

House Accreditation Briefing

In late February, CHEA held an accreditation briefing for staff of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor and the personal staff of Members of the Committee.  This briefing included an overview of the fundamentals of accreditation, discussion of the importance of self-regulation for higher education, the different types of accreditation, accreditation's role in society and its relationship with the federal government.

CHEA provided materials that each staff member can use for reference in the future.  Questions from the staff focused on more detail about the differences in types of accreditation, accreditation and distance learning, outcomes and transfer of credit.  The Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness staff from both sides of the aisle were well-represented at the briefing.

March 2007 Summit – “A Test of Leadership”

The Secretary of Education’s Summit –“A Test of Leadership” was held in Washington, DC, March 21-22, 2007. Approximately 275 higher education, accreditation and other sector leaders discussed proposed implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education as framed by five working groups.  USDE had created these work groups in advance of the summit to identify major actions that can be implemented in the next 12-18 months. One of these groups focused on accreditation.

At the summit, there was discussion of the major accreditation-related actions under the heading of “Using Accreditation to Support and Emphasize Student Learning Outcomes.”   These were:

  1. Increase public awareness and understanding of accreditation through greater transparency.
  2. Create collective ownership at the institutional level for using student learning outcomes as a measure of institutional effectiveness.
  3. Development and pilot the use of transparent measures of core learning outcomes that will facilitate comparisons across similar institutions.  Such measures ultimately may be considered part of the accreditation review.
  4. Align accreditor, state and federal requirements for measuring and reporting student learning outcomes and processes to increase economies of scale and efficiency while reducing redundancy.
  5. Design a process for developing a national qualifications framework.

While there were some modifications in language that resulted from the summit discussion, the five actions remained largely intact. These proposed actions on accreditation are part of the larger set of commission recommendations that also address aligning K-12 and higher education, increasing need-based aid, enhancing affordability and serving adults – a "National Action Plan" for higher education. The results of the summit's deliberations will be reviewed by USDE and a steering committee created for this purpose. And, USDE is planning a series of regional "mini summits" as well. These are to be held in various cities, likely around June 2007.