NAICU Washington Update

Secretary Duncan Outlines Higher Education Policy Priorities

August 06, 2015

In a wide-ranging speech delivered on July 27, 2015 at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC), Education Secretary Arne Duncan offered his thoughts on how to make college more affordable.

Secretary Duncan declared that “major shifts” are needed to address college cost, student learning outcomes, and innovation in order to meet the needs of the modern student. The address called for the expansion of tuition-free and zero-debt pathways to a college degree, innovation in credentialing and competency-based programs, and a greater federal role in accreditation and accountability as the primary means to accomplish the Department’s goals.

In emphasizing the importance of quality assurance in higher education, Duncan rebuked the accrediting agencies as “the watchdogs that don’t bark,” and criticized Congress and the “higher education lobby” for opposing the Department’s efforts to establish federal criteria to assess student achievement.

Duncan’s assertion that the higher education lobby is responsible for HEA restrictions on the Department’s engagement in student learning is in reference to a provision in the 2008 HEA reauthorization that outlines the joint responsibilities of accreditors and institutions for student learning that was developed and supported by both accreditors and institutional associations, including NAICU.

The Secretary’s statement also belies the longstanding legal barrier to Departmental involvement in such activities. Specifically, the 1979 legislation which established the Department of Education, and outlined the operational goals of the organization (Department of Education Organization Act, P.L. 96-98), declared:

No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law.

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