NAICU Washington Update

From Defining “Value” to New Accreditation Role for The Feds: Awaiting Details On President’s SOTU Proposals

March 12, 2013

In his State of the Union Address on February 12 - and particularly in the White House release of that address - President Obama made some significant proposals for higher education. They ranged from launch of a College Scorecard website (see related article) to establishment of a new role for the federal government in college accreditation. Yet nearly a month later, few additional details have emerged.

In his speech to Congress and the nation, the President briefly addressed student financial aid and the new College Scorecard. Specifically, he called on Congress to “change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid,” and said that the White House’s new College Scorecards would help students and families “compare schools based on a simple criteria - where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”

Following the address, the White House released a supplemental “blueprint” that characterized the administration’s focus on higher education:

Holding colleges accountable for cost, value and quality: Today, the federal government provides more than $150 billion each year in direct loan and grant aid for America’s students. In an era of limited resources, we must allocate the federal investment in student aid wisely, in order to promote opportunity in higher education and ensure the best return on investment. The President will call on Congress to consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.

  • A new College Scorecard to provide clear information about college: Last year, President Obama called for the development of a new College Scorecard to give students and families clear information about college costs and quality as they make decisions about higher education. The Administration is unveiling this interactive tool so that every student and family can gain information on individual colleges and universities – and compare them to similar institutions – as they conduct their college search.

One surprising proposal included in the White House release of the address – but not mentioned by the President when he actually made the speech – was that the federal government take on a new role as an alternate accreditor. That concept is regarded within the higher education community as the most controversial of the President’s ideas, since federal reliance on private accreditation was established as a way to keep the federal government out of direct assessment of curriculum and similar matters, as prescribed in the act establishing the U.S. Department of Education. Giving the federal government such a role would upend the traditional relationship between the federal government, curriculum control and the independence of colleges.

More details, at least on plans for student aid, are expected when the President’s FY 2014 budget is released around April 8. One proposal raised in last year’s budget might reappear: a pitch for campus-based aid reform that would redistribute federal funds based on institutional behavior (low net tuition, high graduation rates for Pell recipients, and a “good value”) rather than on student need. That potential proposal, along with new ideas, could form a vision for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, although any such changes would need to move through Congress before being implemented.


For more information, contact: (student aid funding) (student aid program design) (accreditation) (Scorecard)

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