AGB Policy Alert: Accreditation and State Authorization Regulations

By November 25, 2019 AGB Alerts

On Friday, November 1, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) published new, updated accreditation and state authorization regulations, which are now final. The majority of the regulations will go into effect on July 1, 2020. However, the regulations allow for the early implementation of the state authorization provisions.

Major Provisions

The final accreditation and state authorization regulations have a number of major provisions that could affect governing boards and the institutions they serve. It is important to note that these regulations are final, and governing boards should understand the new regulations and how they will impact their institutions and systems. These provisions:

  • No longer distinguish between “national” and “regional” accreditors and instead consider all institutional accreditors “nationally recognized.” These accreditors still determine from which states they accept applications.
  • Revise state authorization requirements by requiring reciprocity agreements to supersede a state’s own requirements related to distance education.
  • Allow accreditors additional flexibility regarding innovation in academic programs (e.g., allowing accreditors to have alternative standards for curriculum approval, which ED believes will better address the needs of employers).
  • Provide accreditors with additional authority regarding the length of time it allows an institution to be out of compliance with certain standards.
  • Revise requirements for accreditors and institutions with respect to what constitutes a substantive change requiring prior approval.
  • Establish expedited processes for ED to employ in considering the recognition of new accreditors.

Questions to Consider

  • How do these new regulations impact your institution? In what ways are the new regulations potentially beneficial? In what ways are they potentially burdensome?
  • What policies/processes does your institution have/or need to comply with the new regulations?
  • Does your current or potentially new accreditor maintain standards for board governance? If so, what are they?
  • How will the board’s orientation program for new members include:
    • an overview of the accreditation process and the number and types of accreditations held;
    • how to determine if the institution’s educational programs are consistent with its mission;
    • how academic priorities are supported by resource-allocation decisions; and
    • how the accreditation report can aid institutional planning?

Background

In 2018, ED announced its intent to establish a negotiated rulemaking committee on higher education regulatory issues related to accreditation, competency-based education, the definition of a credit hour, state authorization for distance education, and other matters. At that time, AGB submitted comments to ED in support of moving forward with the negotiated rulemaking process if doing so promoted innovation and the ability of colleges and universities to meet the changing needs of students and enhanced mechanisms for educational delivery and academic programs. Then, early this year, the negotiated rulemaking committee was selected, convened several times, and ultimately produced three consensus regulatory packages on: (1) accreditation and state authorization; (2) TEACH grants; and (3) religious inclusion in Title IV grant programs.

While the proposed version of the religious inclusion regulations remains at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review and the proposed TEACH grants regulations were only recently released from OIRA, the proposed version of the accreditation and state authorization regulations were published over the summer. AGB submitted comments to ED on the proposed rule, outlining AGB’s support for provisions that provide needed flexibility to institutions and accreditors, while also expressing concerns over provisions that loosen requirements for new accreditors and provisions allowing accrediting agencies to evaluate individual programs within an institution, among other things.

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