A Report on U.S. Senate and House Hearings in Preparation for Higher Education Act Reauthorization, and Other Government-Related Issues
U.S. SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES HOLD HEARINGS IN PREPARATION FOR REAUTHORIZATION OF HIGHER EDUCATION ACT
In recent weeks, key committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have held hearings on a variety of issues related to higher education and accreditation, preparing for the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).
SENATE HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE HEARING
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on September 19, 2013 on “The Triad: Promoting a System of Shared Responsibility.” In his opening remarks, Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), termed the hearing “the kick-off of the reauthorization process of the Higher Education Act here in the Senate,” with drafting of legislation likely to begin in 2014. Also in opening remarks, Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) suggested that the committee consider “drafting a new Higher Education Act from scratch” – a proposal that Chair Harkin subsequently said was worth exploring.
At the hearing, witnesses and Senators discussed issues including accreditation’s role in quality assurance, greater transparency regarding the accreditation process and decisions, more information on student learning outcomes from colleges and universities, increased educational innovation and the affordability of higher education.
The Committee Chair and Ranking Member also issued a letter on September 16, 2013 indicating that a number of additional hearings will be held on issues including college affordability, increasing higher education quality, student access, innovative approaches to improving student success, student financial aid and teacher preparation programs. Each hearing will be announced at least one week in advance. The letter requests that, once a hearing has been announced, higher education institutions and organizations submit recommendations related to the hearing topic. Recommendations, which should be submitted before the hearing occurs, can be sent to the HELP Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOUSE EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE COMMITTEE HEARINGS
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training have held a series of hearings designed to provide information on higher education-related issues as Congress begins the process of HEA reauthorization. The hearings – titled “Keeping College Within Reach” – have addressed topics including:
- “Improving Access and Affordability through Innovative Partnerships” (September 18, 2013). The hearing focused on ways colleges and universities are utilizing innovative partnerships to improve higher education access and affordability.
- “Supporting Higher Education Opportunities for America’s Servicemembers and Veterans” (September 11, 2013). The hearing addressed institutional efforts to support the education needs of members of the U.S. military and veterans, while also exploring potential policy changes that could strengthen the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
- “Improving Higher Education through Innovation” (July 9, 2013). The hearing featured a discussion of new and innovative modes of educational delivery and the impact of federal regulation on innovation.
- “Discussing Program Quality through Accreditation” (June 13, 2013). More information on this hearing can be found in Federal Update #35.
Additional hearings will be held during the next several months by the Higher Education Subcommittee.
CHEA PROVIDES COMMENTS TO HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, COORDINATES ACCREDITATION COMMUNITY LETTER
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) provided comments on key issues for the upcoming HEA reauthorization in a July 31, 2013 letter to leaders of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. CHEA also coordinated a letter to Congress from the accreditation community that was signed by 36 regional, national and programmatic accrediting organizations, as well as by the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors and CHEA.
The letters came in response to an April 25, 2013 request from Education Committee leaders for ideas and suggestions on issues including college accessibility, affordability and completion, promoting innovation in higher education to improve access and delivering and balancing accountability needs and the regulatory burden on institutions and accrediting organizations.
The letters addressed the misalignment between the expectations of Congress and the academic community regarding accountability and accreditation, with many in Congress viewing accreditation as not appropriately engaged in an accountability agenda. “We need a reauthorization that diminishes the misalignment, acknowledges the effectiveness of accreditation’s commitment to accountability and commits to work with accreditation to address our mutual accountability needs,” the CHEA letter stated. The accreditation community letter noted, “We need to think together about effective, efficient oversight – oversight not judged by the numbers of standards and the numbers of regulations.”
Other higher education associations also submitted letters to Congress on a variety of higher education issues related to HEA reauthorization.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ANNOUNCES SERIES OF MEETINGS ON PRESIDENT’S PLAN TO ADDRESS COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY
On September 19, 2013, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced a nationwide series of open forums, town halls and roundtable meetings to address issues related to President Obama’s plan to address college affordability, announced in August, 2013. The meetings’ purpose is to gather information and suggestions on college affordability and value as USDE develops a college ratings system that will, over time, link performance to student aid. In its announcement, USDE invited members of the public to send comments on the President’s plan and suggestions for the ratings system to email@example.com.
JAMIENNE STUDLEY APPOINTED DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY OF EDUCATION
USDE announced on September 20, 2013 that Jamienne Studley has been appointed Deputy Under Secretary of Education. In this position, Studley will focus on issues related to the administration’s higher education agenda, including accreditation.
Until her appointment to USDE, Studley was President and CEO of Public Advocates, Inc., a nonprofit legal and advocacy organization. Since 2012, she has chaired the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), the advisory body that provides recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Education on the recognition of accrediting organizations. She served as USDE’s Deputy and Acting General Counsel from 1993-2007 and was President of Skidmore College from 1999-2003.
NEGOTIATED RULEMAKING ON GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT REGULATIONS BEGINS
USDE held the first session of a negotiated rulemaking in Washington, DC, to draft regulations for gainful employment on September 9-11, 2013. "Gainful employment" regulations, intended to capture information about earnings and indebtedness, would establish standards for programs that prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation and measure employment outcomes. "Negotiated rulemaking" is a process by which the federal government consults with key constituents as part of drafting or revising regulations.
At the committee’s first meeting, the 14 negotiators expressed a variety of views on the draft regulatory proposals. Failure by the committee to reach unanimous agreement on all regulatory proposals being considered means USDE is free to propose new regulations or revise the set of regulations considered by the committee. The negotiated rulemaking committee will meet again in Washington, DC on October 21-23, 2013.
In a September 19, 2013 Federal Register notice, USDE reaffirmed its intention to hold a negotiated rulemaking on a number of additional higher education issues. The notice – announcing the establishment of a negotiated rulemaking committee to address changes to campus safety and security reporting requirements made by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 – stated that USDE continues to consider topics for rulemakings including state authorization of programs offered through distance education or correspondence education, state authorization for foreign locations of institutions located in a state, clock to credit hour conversion, the definition of “adverse credit” for borrowers in the federal Direct PLUS Loan Programs and campus-based federal student aid program reforms. USDE anticipates announcing the establishment of a negotiated rulemaking on some or all of these topics in the coming months.
USDE REGULATIONS DEFENDED BY INSPECTOR GENERAL
On September 8, 2013, USDE’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) sent a letter to Congressman George Miller (D-California), Ranking Member of the House Education Committee, stating the office’s view that USDE’s gainful employment, state authorization and credit hour regulations “will improve protections for students and taxpayers.” The letter came in response to a request from Miller that OIG review H.R. 2637, which would repeal these regulations.
The House Education Committee approved H.R. 2637 on July 22, 2013, a bill to repeal USDE’s gainful employment, state authorization and credit hour regulations. The full House of Representatives passed similar legislation in 2012 (see Federal Update #24).
BILL TO ESTABLISH DEMONSTRATION PROGRAM FOR COMPETENCY-BASED EDUCATION INTRODUCED IN HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
On September 19, 2013, Congressman Matt Salmon (R-Arizona) introduced legislation to establish a demonstration program for competency-based education. The bill – H.R. 3136 – would allow demonstration programs that are monitored by USDE to “explore ways of delivering education and disbursing student financial aid that are based on learning rather than time.” The legislation provides for USDE to select institutions or systems to voluntarily participate in a demonstration program. The legislation, which is cosponsored by Representatives Robert Andrews (D-New Jersey), Susan Brooks (R-Indiana) and Jared Polis (D-Colorado), has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.