NAICU Washington Update

Final Rules on Accreditation and State Authorization Published

November 08, 2019

After months of negotiated rulemaking, the Department of Education has published its final regulations governing federal recognition of accrediting agencies, state authorization, and other student assistance general provisions.
During the negotiated rulemaking, a broad array of higher education stakeholders debated a massive package of Title IV regulatory changes sought by the Department.  Like the proposed rules, the final regulations hew closely to the consensus agreement reached during negotiated rulemaking.
The numerous accreditation-related changes in the final regulations would:
  • Clarify the roles of the program integrity triad.
  • Allow more flexibility for accreditors and institutions to innovate.
  • Reemphasize the importance of institutional mission.
  • Establish a definition of religious mission.
  • Simplify the federal recognition process.
  • Create a new category of “substantial compliance” for accreditors who have minor deficiencies in their recognition applications.
  • Streamline the accreditation review process for certain types of substantive changes.
  • Establish new transparency requirements for accreditors to meet.
  • Permit accreditors to apply alternative accreditation standards to institutions.
  • Allow institutions additional time to become compliant with accreditation standards.
  • Modify institutional disclosure requirements.
  • Strengthen requirements governing the teach-out process.
Changes to the state authorization requirements include provisions that would:
  • Eliminate the requirement that institutions offering online education in another state must document that the state has a process for reviewing complaints against the institution or that the state participates in a reciprocity agreement.
  • Clarify that institutional disclosures should be based on the state where students are located, as opposed to their state of residence.
  • Amend the definition of state authorization reciprocity agreements to clarify that such agreements “cannot prohibit any member State of the agreement from enforcing its own general-purpose State laws and regulations outside of the State reciprocity agreement.”
  • Alter the distance education disclosure requirements.
    • Some of the previous disclosure requirements would be made applicable only to at-risk institutions.
    • Other disclosure requirements – including disclosures regarding whether an educational program meets state licensure requirements, placement rates (if such rates are required to be reported by the accreditor); whether an institution is required to maintain a teach-out plan; and any enforcement action or prosecution that could result in an adverse accreditation action; revocation of state authorization; or limitation, suspension, or termination of Title IV eligibility – would apply to all institutions of higher education.  Thus, these regulations would apply to colleges and universities that do not have distance education programs. 
The final rules will take effect on July 1, 2020, although the Secretary of Education has exercised her authority to designate several portions of the regulations for early implementation. The regulations that institutions may, at their discretion, implement early are the provisions governing state authorization, including the new definition of reciprocity agreements, removal of distance education disclosures, and new disclosures for all institutions.
The accreditation and state authorization regulations are the first of several sets of rules that the Department intends to publish in order to address all of the regulatory amendments that were agreed upon during negotiated rulemaking. Forthcoming rules are expected to contain changes affecting TEACH grants, faith-based institutions, and other Title IV requirements. 

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