NAICU Washington Update

Education Department Outlines Negotiated Rulemaking Priorities

December 21, 2018

The U.S. Department of Education released new details about its plans for the upcoming negotiated rulemaking dedicated to revising regulations related to the Title IV student financial aid programs. In prepared remarks before a private audience of higher education associations, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that “higher education is due for a rethink,” and shared two white papers that outline how the agency plans to tackle certain challenges confronting higher education.
The first white paper provides an outline of the agency’s vision for higher education reform at the legislative, regulatory, and subregulatory levels. Entitled “Rethinking Higher Education,” the paper identifies multiple issues as challenges to the current higher education model, including college cost, completion, student debt, nontraditional students, simplistic outcome metrics, state licensure requirements, regulatory burden, and limitations on free speech.
In response to the concerns it cites, the Department makes numerous recommendations. These recommendations range from streamlining regulations and promoting institutional autonomy and mission, to supporting new transfer of credit policies and expanding student aid to include short-term programs.
In its second white paper, the Department sets forth its specific thoughts regarding accreditation reform. In the Department’s view, the current model of accreditation inhibits innovation, forces accreditors to monitor compliance issues that should be the federal government’s responsibility, burdens accreditors with unnecessary regulation, and prevents accreditors from respecting institutional autonomy and mission.
In response to these concerns, the Department lists the following proposals for accreditation reform:
  • Restore “substantial compliance” as the standard for recognition;
  • Restore the program integrity triad by clarifying the distinct responsibilities of the federal government, states, and accreditors;
  • Eliminate barriers posed by credential inflation and institutional policies regarding transfer of credit;
  • Provide greater flexibility for institutions to innovate;
  • Protect institutional autonomy and mission;
  • Recognize that current outcome metrics are not necessarily a measure of academic quality;
  • Modify “substantive change” requirements to provide greater flexibility to institutions;
  • Streamline the recognition process; and
  • Encourage and enable accreditors to support innovative practices.
The proposals specified in the white papers are likely to serve as the blueprint for the Department during the upcoming negotiated rulemaking. For purposes of conducting the rulemaking, the Department has established a single negotiated rulemaking committee on accreditation and innovation, as well as three subcommittees that will focus on distance learning and educational innovation, TEACH grants, and faith-based institutions.
The Department has also sent out invitations to negotiators to serve on the main committee and three subcommittees during the upcoming negotiated rulemaking.  Jody Feder, NAICU’s Director of Accountability and Regulatory Affairs, has been selected to serve as a representative of the private, nonprofit sector on the distance education and educational innovation subcommittee.
The rest of the list, including who will represent private, nonprofit colleges on the other panel, has not yet been made public.  Although NAICU nominated additional individuals for these responsibilities, the Department will have a wide array of candidates from whom to choose.

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