Major reauthorization bills, other proposed legislation and documents affecting accreditation

U. S. Department of Education Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

On June 12, 2019, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) published proposed regulations on accreditation, innovation and other topics, reflecting the draft consensus language approved by the negotiated rulemaking committee that met earlier in 2019. For the rule to take effect on July 1, 2020, the final rule must be published in the Federal Register by November 1, 2019.

U.S. Department of Education: Accreditation Reform and Negotiated Rulemaking

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) is holding a series of discussions with relevant constituencies (known as “negotiated rulemaking”) in early 2019. The topics include higher education accreditation and innovation, as well as distance learning and faith-based entities’ participation in federal student aid programs. Negotiated rulemaking is the process used by USDE to negotiate changes in federal regulations. Once the negotiated rulemaking is completed, USDE will issue revised or new regulations affecting both federally recognized accrediting organizations and institutions receiving federal funds. The negotiated rulemaking was preceded by a paper on reforming accreditation (link) issued by USDE in December 2018.

While the PROSPER Act (House Republicans’ reauthorization bill) and Aim Higher Act (House Democrats’ reauthorization bill) expired at the end of the last Congress that adjourned in December 2018, they are instructive as to the thinking regarding reauthorization. It is unknown if either bill will be reintroduced in the 116th Congress that begins in January 2019.

  • H.R. 4508 Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act (2018)
    Proposed by Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Brett Guthrie (R-Kentucky), Chair of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee, this bill is a major overhaul of the HEA, with significant changes for accreditation, how it operates and how it is accountable to government. The Committee has advanced the bill for the House floor.
    PROSPER Act (H. R. 4508) Bill Text   PROSPER Act Bill Summary  PROSPER Act Fact Sheet
  • H.R. 6543 Aim Higher Act (2018)
    Proposed by Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), Ranking Member, and the Democrats on the Committee on Education and the Workforce in the U. S. House of Representatives the bill also makes major changes in accreditation operation and accountability, from the perspective of the Democratic Party. There has been no action on the bill.
    Aim Higher Act (H.R. 6543) Bill Text      Aim Higher Act Bill Summary   Aim Higher Act Fact Sheet 
  • White Paper: Higher Education Accountability (2018)
    A white paper on higher education accountability released by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, this effort is part of preparations to draft Senate reauthorization legislation.  White Paper Text

  • Senate Democratic Caucus Higher Education Act Reauthorization Principles (2018)
    Proposed by Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), Ranking Member of the HELP Committee, and the Senate Democratic Caucus, the Higher Education Act Reauthorization Principles focus in four key areas: affordability, accountability, access, and protecting the rights and safety of students. Higher Education Act Reauthorization Principles

  • S. 615 Higher Education Innovation Act (2017)
    Proposed by Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida), the bill creates a five-year pilot program to establish “innovation authorizers” or alternative providers of quality review, in addition to current accrediting organizations. Higher Education Innovation Act Bill Text

  • S. 2228 Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act (2017)
    Proposed by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), this bill calls for accreditation reform, e.g., requiring that institutions provide additional information on student achievement, greater transparency and accountability and enabling states to establish accrediting authorities that can provide access to federal student aid for postsecondary apprenticeship programs from a variety of providers, in addition to current accrediting organizations. Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act Bill Text
  • S. 3380, Accreditation Reform and Accountability Act of 2016
    Proposed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), this bill would result in a major restructuring of current accrediting organizations based primarily on setting government standards of student achievement, requiring greater transparency and increasing accountability to government for accrediting organizations, among other provisions.  Accreditation Reform and Accountability Act of 2016 Bill Text, Accreditation Reform and Accountability Act of 2016 Fact Sheet

    Issued by NACIQI, the report contains recommendations that, e.g., (1) call for accreditors to develop common definitions related to their terminology, processes and timelines, (2) call for accreditation reports to be available to the public, (3) allow for multiple tiers of accredited status, (4) provide for differentiated access to federal student aid and other funds based on differentiated accredited status, (5) allow for institutional choice in selecting an accreditor and (6) provide for alternative accrediting organizations. NACIQI is the federal advisory body that provides recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Education on the recognition of accrediting organizations.   NACIQI Accreditation Policy Recommendations Report and see Federal update 47
  • White Paper: Higher Education Accreditation Concepts and Proposals (2015)
    Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Chair of the Senate HELP Committee, this staff report focuses on accreditation and (1) strengthening quality, (2) promoting competition and innovation, (3) keeping recognition of accrediting agencies independent and free from politics and (4) providing appropriate accountability to USDE.
  • NACIQI Recommendations to the Secretary of Education for Higher Education Reauthorization (2012)
    Developed by NACIQI, the report offers recommendations in areas including active role by USDE in the practices of accreditation, the role  of state governments, the role and scope of accrediting organizations, data as an essential tool in quality assurance and public information, a federal standardization of expectations of academic quality and NACIQI's role as a federal advisory body.
    Higher Education Accreditation Reauthorization Policy Recommendation  See Federal Update # 26