NAICU Washington Update

Accreditation: Negotiated Rulemaking, Round 2

April 05, 2007


The second session of accreditation negotiated rulemaking on March 26-28 didn't settle any major issues, but it did remove any doubt on the Department of Education's intent to require accreditation agencies to use "bright-line" measures of performance in their reviews of institutions.

Several negotiators offered an alternative to the regulations proposed by the Department regarding measurement of student learning outcomes. (See WIR, 3/27/07.) This alternative would have made measurement provisions on completion, placement, and state licensure pass rates a required part of an institution's self study. Institutions would also be required to identify expected levels of performance on student achievement, and then demonstrate success in meeting those levels through quantitative and qualitative measures.

Proponents of the alternative argued that it was preferable to the Department's proposal because it avoided the direct federal specification of standards, and put the responsibility for defining measures on institutions rather than on accreditors.

These distinctions would affect the work of accreditors, but there would be little difference between the two proposals in terms of what institutions would be required to do. Judith Eaton of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) was the lone voice at the table offering the perspective of institutions.

The Department's representative on the panel, Vickie Schray, indicated that the alternative was unacceptable because the accreditation agency's "responsibility to review and approve is missing," and because the Department wishes to retain its proposed requirements for quantitative standards for completion, job placement, and state licensure (or related) exam pass rates.

The flat rejection of the alternative by the Department discouraged some of the negotiators, but did not deter another group of them from putting forward yet another proposal on the final day of this negotiating session.  Department officials have not yet commented on this proposal.

On other issues, the committee again discussed transfer of credit, but did not reach any agreement about the proposed regulation. (See WIR, 2/13/07, 2/28/07 and 3/27/07.) Members also briefly discussed new accreditation disclosures, and determined that they were closely tied to student achievement measures and would be reviewed further after the measure issue was resolved.

The committee reached "tentative agreement" on the review of institutions experiencing "substantive change," and to the protection of religious mission. "Tentative agreement" is below the status of the "consensus" that the negotiated rulemaking process is intended to achieve, but indicates general agreement among committee members about a particular proposal.

The religious mission proposal would add the following to the regulations:

The agency must apply its accreditation standards in a manner that does not undermine the religious mission of any institution of higher education with a stated religious mission. 

The next accreditation negotiated rulemaking session will be on April 24-26, and has been lengthened by a half day because of the Department's concern that the committee's work might not otherwise be completed. Department officials indicated that this phase of the process must be completed by April 26 to assure that final regulations can be in place by November 1 - allowing them to be implemented on July 1, 2008.

For more information, contact Susan Hattan,

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