Status Report: Where We Are With the CHEA Reauthorization Agenda

Publication Number 16 September 9, 2004

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) Reauthorization Agenda was adopted by the CHEA Board of Directors in April 2003. Click here for a status report on the CHEA Agenda and progress on activities related to the major reauthorization bill of the House of Representatives, HR 4283. Both the CHEA Agenda and HR 4283 address the accreditation issues of student learning outcomes, distance learning, transfer of credit and information to the public. The bill incorporates some CHEA positions but includes a number of other provisions that are cause for concern in relation to the self-regulation of academic quality in our colleges and universities.

Congress Returns: HEA Waits until 2005

Congress returned to Washington on September 7, 2004 after a six-week recess and the national political conventions. It will strive to complete next year’s spending bills and perhaps some political necessities like the reorganization of the federal intelligence agencies before it adjourns for the elections. There is some talk about a “lame duck” session after the election, but only an unexpected budget impasse is likely to bring this Congress back after the November 2 elections. It is unlikely that any formal work will be done on the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization. But CHEA’s recent round of Hill visits signals that the staff members continue to work on HEA proposals, including provisions that could impact accreditation.

On HEA, the Republican majorities remain in the driver’s seat. Democratic staff members report that they are not being consulted about the majority plans on timing or content of HEA legislation. Reactions to HR 4283, introduced by the House Republican leaders on May 5, are still coming to the Education and the Workforce Committee from associations, constituents and other members.

Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), chair of the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness, indicated in late June 2004 that his subcommittee would not vote on HR 4283 this year. The formal legislative steps will resume in 2005. Informally, congressional staff members can continue to consider alternatives and negotiate further in preparation for next year.

The Senate staff reports that Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), Chair of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), still plans to introduce a major HEA bill before Congress adjourns. Even if this is so, the Senate bill will not be taken up by the committee this year. Senator Gregg has an option in 2005 to chair the Budget Committee. Should he make that choice, the HELP Committee would have a new chair next year, likely Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY).

Starting Over and the HEA Expiration

Both the House and Senate must start over again on HEA in 2005, because all the pending bills expire when the two-year term of the current 108th Congress ends. New HEA bills will be introduced in 2005, the start of the 109th Congress. The new bills may duplicate or modify what was left over from the prior Congress. In a new Congress, the 49-member House Committee usually shifts as many as a dozen members. As noted above, the Senate could have a new committee chair, but this committee is likely to have few other member changes. Of course, the election results can impact the legislation next year. A new HEA bill could move quickly next January, but several months or even the whole year is a more likely schedule for completion.

In law, the programs authorized by the HEA all expire at the end of September 2004. There is disagreement among experts as to the necessity to put in place a temporary extension of the HEA before the end of this year. Some say such an extension is needed to assure federal loan guarantees and interest payments on student loans. Other experts say that technical adjustments in the appropriations process can cover this need. In any scenario, you can be confident that Congress will not let the highly popular student assistance programs collapse just before an election.

If there is a major new Senate bill this year, CHEA will advise the sponsors of our views and use our HEA Update to advise you about its accreditation provisions and our reactions.