NAICU Washington Update

Department of Education Unveils Plans for Accreditation Reform

November 06, 2015

U.S. Department of Education revealed a package of proposals to make college accreditation a more transparent and accountable process. The contours of that plan, released on November 6, include both executive and legislative action, will be guided by efforts to improve “transparency” and “outcomes.”

Executive Action (to be taken immediately):

The Department plans on releasing a package of five executive actions to place a greater reliance on transparency and student outcomes in the accreditation process, including:

  1. Making accrediting body standards for direct comparison publically available on the Department’s website;
  2. Sorting institutions’ College Scorecard profiles by accreditors;
  3. Publicly posting institutional probation letters;
  4. Developing a better communication plan between the accreditors and the Department related to risk-based accreditation; and
  5. Putting a greater emphasis on outputs (such as those related to cost, earnings, and completion from the College Scorecard) over inputs.

Legislative Action (request to Congress):

The Department will ask Congress to make four legislative changes to accreditation, including:

  1. Removing the prohibition on the Secretary to develop student learning outcome metrics;
  2. Requiring more robust teach-out plans and reserve funds for high-risk institutions;
  3. Standardizing definitions across regional, national, and programmatic accreditors; and
  4. Publicly posting final accreditation reports.

The Department does not plan on issuing any new regulations, or updating any existing regulations at this time. Although the Executive action is relatively modest, and the Congressional request unlikely to be implemented, it is clear that the accreditation process is in the Department’s crosshairs.

Further, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is currently “reviewing the role that accreditors play in assessing the quality and financial health of postsecondary institutions and programs.” The subcommittee has focused on the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the national accrediting body responsible for the accreditation of Corinthian College. It is unclear at this time whether the investigation will extend beyond ACICS. This is the same Subcommittee that looked into fraud and abuse in the federal student aid programs in the early 1990s, under then Subcommittee Chair, Sam Nunn (D-GA).

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