The Omnibus spending bill introduced earlier this week was lauded as a win for students and colleges and heralded by higher ed advocates because it contained large increases in funding for a number of important federal financial aid programs. But for some school’s what’s missing from the bill signals the beginning of the end. Schools presently accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) were dealt a major blow when riders in the bill which would have given the schools an extension to obtain alternative accreditation were stripped from the bill.

In an email circulated by Central States Private Education Network (CSPEN), Tom Netting and Jeri Prochaska explain the details and what happens next.

CSPEN UPDATE  March 22nd, 2018
FY18 Omnibus Appropriations Deal Reached
Shortly after 8 o’clock last night congressional leaders finally released the 2,232-page, $1.3 trillion omnibus spending proposal providing funding for the remaining six months of the current fiscal year which began last October 1st.  The bill, currently being negotiated on the House floor with Senate consideration likely to follow over the next couple of days – suggesting that a sixth Continuing Resolution will likely have to be passed by midnight tomorrow in order to provide time for the Senate to consider the bill.
In general, the bill is a very sizeable increase in spending over both the prior budget deal agreed upon under the Obama Administration and larger than President Trump’s budget request.  Thanks to the new two-year budget deal signed into law last month, Labor-HHS-Education appropriations, which is already the largest non-defense title in the omnibus, received a total of $177.1 billion, $16.1 billion more than fiscal 2017.  Based upon the revised number, the funding allocations for each of the three departments breaks down as follows: $88.1 billion for Health and Human Services Department, $70.9 billion for Education Department, and $12.2 billion for the Labor Department.
Within Education, the new budget deal netted a $4.1 billion increase over the prior year ($70.9 – FY18 v. $66.8 FY17), providing benefits for higher education funding in the form of $24.4 billion for Federal Pell Grants, compared to $22.5 billion in 2017 AND the removal of a provision previously being considered to repeal $1.6 billion of the existing surplus in the Federal Pell Grant program.  This favorable outcome for students will result in an increase in the maximum award of $175 for Academic Year 2019, raising the maximum award to $6,095 for zero EFC students, ensures the continuation of Year-round Pell funding, and suggests that congress will continue to support incremental Pell Grant support as the appropriator begin to discuss funding levels for Fiscal Year 2019.

ACICS-accredited Institution Transition Provision Political Casualty
Through absolutely no fault of anyone, including most notably the House and Senate Education Committee leadership, ACICS-accredited institutions, Accrediting Agencies, or those supporting their efforts to extend the June 12, 2018 deadline for transition to an alternative accrediting agency, the final deal reached by House and Senate leaders and the White House failed to include an amendment granting institutions and accreditors additional time for institutions to make necessary changes to comply with their new accrediting agencies’ standards and/or provide the accreditors with updated data validating their compliance.
Despite efforts behind the scenes to resolve and further refine the language originally contained in the Senate’s version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (S. 1557 – S. Report 115-130) by Senate HELP Committee leadership, House support for the inclusion of an amendment to address the need for a delay, and significant advocacy from impacted institutions and accrediting agencies; the provision was removed as part of a much larger political deal in which ALL RIDERS were removed in order to clear the way for consideration.  As reported in the press, the final negotiations centered around Democrats insistence on provisions related to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Administration/Republicans efforts to providing funding for building of a wall on our nation’s southern border.  Unable to reach an agreement on these two key issues, an alternative approach was taken in which all of the riders were removed.
Thus, both efforts to resolve and include the ACICS-accredited institution extension (supported by the Republicans) and the inclusion of both Federal Pell Grant and student loan relief in Borrower Defenses claims of Corinthian, ITT, and other institutional closures (supported by the Democrats), along with many, many other priorities being sought for inclusion in the “must-pass legislation” became casualties of the final deal.
So what now?
Without an extension, institutions converting from ACICS to another accrediting agency, by law, must complete the process on or before June 12, 2018 (18 months from the December 12, 2017 notification based upon the NACIQI/Obama Administration decision.  While a significant number of institutions and accreditors will have completed the process, it is incumbent upon the community to continue to share with Congress and the Administration the clear impact that the deadline will have on those institutions and their new accrediting agency.  Both groups need further detailed information showing how and why the 18 month window is too short and the reasons why both the accreditors and the institutions legitimately need more time to complete the process.
Admittedly, this has been the strategy up to this point, and it would have been resolved if the final deal would have retained many crucial riders.  But since it didn’t, we must now redouble our efforts to show the impact on students, schools, and the accreditors that must – as everyone would expect them to – follow their standards and processes.  Thus we must help make everyone understand why additional time to complete the transition/conversion process is in everyone’s best interest.
CSPEN will certainly continue to do everything we can to support these efforts on behalf of the effected portions of our community.