USDE Announces Extension of Waivers for Accreditation

Publication Number 90 May 19, 2020


USDE logoOn May 15, 2020, the Office of Postsecondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) updated its "Guidance For Interruptions in Study Related to Coronavirus (COVID-19)," extending the previously announced waivers until December 31, 2020.

Recognizing the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, USDE is providing additional regulatory flexibilities due to the President's declaration of a national emergency due to COVID-19 as well as information about the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Pub. L. No. 116-136.

Accrediting organizations are permitted to conduct virtual accreditation visits that must be followed up with an on-site visit "in a timeframe that is reasonably practicable, and may be performed by staff or a trained site visitor and need not repeat the full review. A focused site visit to confirm the presence of facilities viewed during the virtual site visit and, if required by the accrediting agency, the opportunity to randomly select students to interview as part of the normal site visit process, is sufficient to meet the Department's requirements for an on-site visit following a full virtual site visit." This is a continuation and clarification of the March 17, 2020 guidance from USDE (see Federal Update #89). Accrediting organizations are permitted an additional six months to review institutional eligibility under a change of ownership.

Institutions are permitted continued flexibility to use distance education and the accreditation requirements around distance education to meet the needs of students. This is a continuation of the March 5, 2020 guidance from USDE (see Federal Update #89). Institutions are permitted an additional six months to be reviewed for eligibility under a change of ownership.

There are a number of additional areas covered in this guidance from USDE, such as verification of a high school (or equivalent) completion status, federal student aid program information, leaves of absence, satisfactory academic progress and the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant program.


Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote a letter to USDE Secretary Betsy DeVos on May 15, 2020 asking for continued "flexibility in implementing distance education programs during the Coronavirus Pandemic" for institutions, while insisting on additional oversight and reporting by institutions and accrediting organizations.

The letter requests "reporting requirements and other guardrails" such as requiring institutions to "report to the Department (1) which programs are affected and whether they are wholly or partially online; (2) the programs' expected duration to operate online and (3) any changes to the programs." Additionally, institutions would be required to report to accreditors "how the institution seeks to maintain quality in distance education," as well as, at the end of the pandemic, the date by which programs will transition back to in-person instruction. The senators want accreditors to report to USDE the information they obtain from institutions. They also want USDE's inspector general "to audit this information to ensure that accreditors properly supervise institutions' compliance with requirements that distance education programs feature regular and substantive interaction with instructors."

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) will follow this issue closely and will keep members and the accreditation community informed on any developments.