USDE Workshop on Innovation and Updates on Other Federal Issues

Publication Number 51 February 24, 2016


USDE Gathers Stakeholders at Workshop on Innovation in Quality Assurance to Discuss Quality for Nontraditional Programs

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) held a meeting on February 4, 2016 of accreditors, non-institutional providers of education, institutions and associations to discuss the questions that need to be answered to determine quality for these types of educational offerings. The “Workshop on Innovation in Quality Assurance” comes on the heels of the Experimental Sites Initiative pilot program that was announced in October 2015 (see Federal Update #50). CHEA President Judith Eaton was a participant in the all-day meeting.

USDE has identified four questions that can be used to gauge quality for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), boot camps and other types of non-institutional offerings that may lead to participation in federal student aid. The questions are:

  1. What are measurable claims of learning outcomes?
  2. How is the assessment done to show that the outcomes are reached?
  3. How can this be disaggregated to show outcomes for low income students?
  4. How can the stability of the provider be measured?

Acting Secretary John B. King, Jr. Nominated as Secretary of Education

On February 11, 2016, President Obama announced the nomination of John B. King Jr. as Secretary of Education. The President had previously said that King – who has been Acting Secretary since Arne Duncan left USDE at the end of 2015 – would serve as Acting Secretary for the remainder of this administration.The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on King’s nomination on February 25, 2016.


The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and five accrediting organizations have asked a federal judge for permission to file an amicus brief concerning a dispute between the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Accrediting Council for Independent Schools and Colleges (ACICS). The amicus brief states that “CFPB’s actions exceeded its own jurisdiction, and intrude upon the jurisdiction of the Department of Education.”

In August, 2015, the CFPB sought letters and testimony from ACICS as part of an investigation into possible “unlawful actions and practices in connection with accrediting for-profit colleges. in violation of the [the Act], or any other federal consumer financial law.”CFPB and ACICS are at odds over whether ACICS has to hand over records to CFPB. The amicus brief argues “CFPB’s efforts to investigate ACICS will not only impact that body, but will greatly impact all accrediting bodies in the field.”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Recommends Larger Role for Employers in Accreditation

On January 27, 2015, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and USA Funds issued a draft report recommending steps that employers can take to establish their own “talent supplier recognition and certification system” as an alternative to or complementary to the current accreditation system. This would be employer-driven quality assurance with the goal of closing the current purported skills gap. The Chamber describes this employer-led certification system as complementing the current accreditation system and operating outside the federal recognition system.

In addition to the certification proposal, the Chamber wants employers to play a larger role in the governance of current accrediting organizations and the institutional and programmatic visits accreditors make.


During the 2016 CHEA Annual Conference, held January 25-27 in Washington, DC, CHEA President Judith Eaton talked about calls for change in accreditation emerging from government, employers, students and other stakeholders. These are call for additional attention to, e.g., student achievement, enhancing transparency and more focus on low-performing institutions. She urged that, as part of the conference discussion, we in accreditation reflect on what we need to do to engage and enhance our effectiveness in serving students and society in the future as part of the conference discussion.

Susan Phillips, Chair of 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 – also spoke at the conference. She noted that the Committee is interested in additional focus on what accreditors do to address student performance in their institutions, such as evaluating graduation rates, job placement rates, loan repayment rates and default rates. (NACIQI subsequently announced on February 11, 2016 a Draft Plan for discussion of this issue at the committee’s June 2016 meeting.)

(For additional coverage of the 2016 CHEA Annual Conference and CHEA International Quality Group Annual Meeting, see the February 3, 2016 issue of Accreditation in the News.)

NACIQI Meets to Review Accrediting Organizations and Discuss Student Learning Outcomes

NACIQI met December 16-18, 2015 to review 20 accrediting organizations and state agencies for federal recognition or expansion of recognized scope of accreditation. Accrediting organizations and state agencies recognized by USDE act as gatekeepers for Title IV and other federal funds. NACIQI agreed with the staff recommendations except for those for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges and the American Board of Funeral Service Education, Committee on Accreditation. Final staff reports are available on the USDE Website.

USDE Under Secretary Ted Mitchell spoke at the NACIQI meeting, addressing a range of issues including sparking innovation in higher education, focusing accreditation on outcomes, the Educational Quality Through Innovative Partnerships experimental program, prior learning assessment, direct assessment, dual enrollment and the Executive Actions announced in November. (Mitchell provided greater detail on how USDE is seeking to strengthen accreditation’s focus on outcomes in a blog post on February 4, 2016.)

The Committee was also briefed by NACIQI Executive Director Jennifer Hong regarding criteria pertaining to student achievement, their implementation and interpretation. NACIQI explored 1) the boundaries of current law and regulation with regard to student achievement and 2) whether it could, within those boundaries, expand its current practices. Sally Morgan, an attorney with USDE’s Office of the General Counsel, provided information to the Committee on the parameters of the discussion of student achievement measures in light of the most recent data and information provided by USDE, e.g., the latest version of the College Scorecard. CHEA President Judith Eaton was also asked to address the Committee on accreditation and its role in student achievement from the perspective of CHEA’s experience with recognizing and working with accrediting organizations.