FINAL ACCREDITATION AND STATE AUTHORIZATION REGULATIONS RELEASED

The United States Department of Education published final accreditation and state authorization regulations in October. The rules which will govern accrediting agencies and how they accredit institutions, as well as state authorization rules for distance education providers will have two different effective dates. Most of the published regulations will take effect on July 1, 2020, however some of the provisions were scheduled for early implementation beginning on November 1, 2019.

600.2 – Institutional Eligibility

600.9 – State Auth – Religious Institutions

668.43 – State Complaint Process

668.50 – Institutional Disclosure for Distance Programs

The remaining regulations pertaining to the Department’s recognition of accrediting agencies, will take effect on July 1, 2021.

SUMMARY OF MAJOR POLICY CHANGES RELATED TO ACCREDITATION

  • Eliminate geography to determine an accreditor’s scope of recognition and clarify that institutional mission, rather than geographic location, should guide the quality assessment of an institution and its programs.
  • Affirm that accreditors must respect the mission of an institution of higher education that relies upon religious tenets, beliefs, or teachings.
  • Encourage institutions to evaluate the merit of transfer credits and prior learning assessment more fairly to reduce the need for students to take – and pay for – the same classes twice.
  • Allow accreditors to establish different methods of monitoring institutional success, based on the mission of the institution and the goals of its students.
  • Provide flexibility for accreditors to support innovation in higher education, recognizing that innovation has inherent risk, and monitoring the innovation carefully to intervene when student success is at risk.
  • Engage employers more directly in the evaluation of program quality and allow for institutional decision-making models that give employers a more prominent role in recommending program or curriculum updates.
  • Provide opportunities for accreditors to increase standards for accountability, while also providing an appropriate amount of time for institutions to make the changes needed to meet those standards.
  • Allow accreditors to take earlier action when institutions are struggling to require teach-out plans and permitting accreditors to permit teach-out agreements before a school announces its closure.
  • Reduce credential inflation, especially in programs that lead to a State license, to allow low income students the opportunity to pursue those occupations and to ensure that the cost of qualifying for work does not exceed a graduate’s likely earnings.
  • Reduce the time and complexity associated with approving an accreditor’s application for initial or renewal of recognition.

SUMMARY OF MAJOR POLICY CHANGES RELATED TO STATE AUTHORIZATION

  • Make clear that an institution must identify the State in which a student is “located” and, therefore, the State in which the institution must have authorization.
  • More clearly define State authorization reciprocity agreements and reaffirm that they meet the requirements of the State authorization regulations for States that elect to participate in them.
  • Expand consumer protections for students who are enrolled in programs that lead to occupational licensure, including those enrolled in ground-based courses or programs.
  • Reduce the disclosures that institutions must provide students to reduce the cost and burden of distributing them and increasing the chances that students will consider them.
  • Eliminate requirements for States to establish new or separate consumer complaint processes for students enrolled in distance learning programs, while providing other options to ensure consumer protection.
  • Enable institutions to determine the States for which it will determine occupational licensing requirements, while requiring institutions to report that information accurately to students.
  • Enable students to continue their education, even if work or military service requires them to move to a new State, and to allow students to complete internships with potential future employers, without adding new State licensing fees to their institutions.

Institutions with questions pertaining to this or other matters of compliance with Accreditation, Federal Student Aid standards are welcome to contact our offices for additional assistance.


NEGOTIATED RULEMAKING ANNOUNCED FOR ACCREDITATION AND INNOVATION

On October 15, 2018, the Department published a notice in the Federal Register announcing that it will be establishing a negotiated rulemaking committee to prepare proposed regulations to address accreditation and innovation in higher ed. The Federal Register notice also requested nominations for individual negotiators who represent key stakeholder constituencies for the issues to be negotiated to serve on the committee and announced a schedule for committee meetings.
In addition, the notice requested nominations for individuals with pertinent expertise to participate in one of three topic-based subcommittees: Distance Learning and Educational Innovation; Faith-Based Entities; and, TEACH Grants.
The Accreditation and Innovation Committee will meet for three sessions on the following dates: Session 1: January 14–16, 2019 Session 2: February 19–22, 2019 Session 3: March 25–28, 2019. Meanwhile, each of the subcommittees will meet for three sessions on the following dates: Meeting 1: January 17–18, 2019 Meeting 2: February 12–13, 2019 Meeting 3: March 11–12, 2019.
Locations for the committee and subcommittee meetings will be announced in a subsequent Federal Register Notice. As provided in the Federal Register notice, the deadline for submitting nominations is Thursday, November 15, 2018.

NEASC-CIHE IS NOW NECHE

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE) is now the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE). NECHE has taken on the functions formerly performed by the CIHE. The move follows concerns raised by officials last year that the NEASC’s Commission on Higher Education wasn’t a “separate and independent” organization as required by ED. Now NECHE will function as an independent organization, fulfilling the federal requirements.

SENIOR DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL RECOMMENDS ED GIVE ACICS MORE TIME

Two years after the Obama administration’s top education officials Emma Vadehra, the Chief of Staff to, and, Education Secretary John B. King Jr. at the U.S. Department of Education decided to terminate the Department’s recognition of ACICS, the Accrediting Council For Independent Colleges and Schools, the Trump administration is attempting to revive them.

Diane Auer Jones, an aide to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos who has been carrying out the duties of the Undersecretary of Education and acting as “Senior Department Official” (SDO), found the Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) to be compliant with only 19 out of the 21 requirements for federal recognition, but still hasn’t demonstrated full compliance. She recommends ACICS be given another twelve months to come into or demonstrate compliance with federal accreditor recognition standards.

In a statement Michelle Edwards, President and CEO of ACICS commented on the SDO’s recommendation:

“It has been a long and winding road since we filed our 2016 petition for continued recognition. We have long believed that ACICS met accreditation criteria as established by the Department and had the ability to remedy any deficiencies noted by the Department. We understand the agency’s need to be extremely thorough in its evaluation of our compliance. We appreciate the SDO’s very thoughtful and detailed review of the voluminous supporting materials that the agency provided in response to the Secretary’s April 2018 Order.

In the past two years, ACICS has implemented significant reforms designed to address concerns, strengthen the accreditation process and, ultimately, enhance our ability to hold schools accountable for meaningful student outcomes.  These efforts will continue in force as we improve and evolve our processes to ensure we not only remain in compliance with current federal requirements, but also foster an environment of rigorous quality and continuous improvement, both at ACICS and our accredited schools.” 

The final decision whether to follow the SDO’s recommendation seems to rest with Betsy DeVos who must now review the SDO’s decision, and decide whether to grant the agency recognition or not. What remains unclear is the Secretary’s authority to grant another extension of accreditation to an agency that has not yet demonstrated full compliance with the recognition criteria or what the timeframe for her to decide is.