Neg Reg Day 3: Committee Digs Deeper Into Accreditation Issues

By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Senior Reporter

Throughout the day Wednesday, the negotiated rulemaking committee tasked with making changes to accreditation regulations continued its discussion on outsourcing, accreditor approval of institutional and programmatic changes, the geographic area of accrediting agencies, and more.

The group again began with a discussion on the outsourcing of programs, after nonfederal negotiators caucused Tuesday night to come up with new proposed regulatory language. The Department of Education (ED) has said its intent with changing the regulatory language is to require for a more timely accreditor review of proposed written arrangements between eligible institutions and ineligible institutions or organizations. Still, many negotiators were concerned with increasing the percentage of a program that could be outsourced without approval from the accrediting agency.

The committee members proposed adding language saying the agency would have “a timely substantive review process” with regard to written arrangements and would be required to make a decision within 90 days of receiving a materially complete application. To improve the timeliness of the review process, ED agreed that in most circumstances, the agency’s governing body could designate agency senior staff to approve or disapprove the request. The threshold would be 60 percent of a program. Some committee members also argued for direct disclosures to students about written arrangements rather than the disclosure being bundled with other institutional information under the current requirement of 668.43(a)(12).

To come to a middle ground on some negotiators’ concerns with potential risk to students and a need to not delay decisions, the group decided to lower the threshold back to 50 percent and maintain the decision timeline. The group also adjusted the timeline to allow for 180 days in cases when the agency’s governing board is reviewing the request, which gives ample time to accommodate the periodic meeting schedules of agency boards..

Throughout the last three sessions the committee has also struggled with reworking a definition with regard to the geographic area for which an accrediting agency operates. Early on, some negotiators were concerned that ED’s proposed changes would force regional accreditors to become national accreditors, or to take on additional institutions in a certain area.

The committee discussed adding language to the preamble to clarify that an accrediting agency is not required to consider accreditation applications from main campuses in states where one of the agency’s accredited institutions has a branch campus or additional location. In the end, the proposed language read that an agency must demonstrate that it conducts accrediting activities within “a region or group of states chosen by the agency in which an agency provides accreditation to a main campus and any branch campuses or additional locations of the institution.”

The group added another sentence saying: “An agency whose region includes a state in which a branch campus or additional location is located is not required to accredit any main campus in that state.”

ED also proposed language that would require accrediting agencies to notify the department of any changes in the geographic area within which it operates.

ED also felt it was important to require the accrediting agencies to publicly disclose any states in which they operate so that if a student wanted to bring a complaint to the accreditor, he or she could easily find who is accrediting the institution in question.

To that end, the group proposed adding a sentence requiring the agency to also update any public disclosure on its website.

The committee spent a significant amount of time discussing proposed changes to the expansion of scope with regard to including graduate programs. The regulatory language would require accrediting agencies seeking to expand their scope to graduate education to justify their reasons “by demonstrating that employers requiring a graduate level credential will pay a salary commensurate with the cost of graduate education.” It would also require the agency to have policies in place “to engage employers in the review and consideration of new graduate programs to determine whether the graduate level credential is required for employment, whether sufficient employment opportunities are available for new graduates, and whether salaries align with the cost of graduate education.”

In a note to the committee, ED said it had proposed the language because it is “deeply concerned about the growth of costly graduate programs, especially in instances when occupations that once required an undergraduate credential suddenly change to require a graduate degree.”

“Credential inflation adds significant cost to higher education and it reduces opportunities for low-income students to pursue careers in those occupations,” the note continued.

Some committee members felt the language was unnecessary and overly prescriptive. Joe Verardo of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students said graduate education is a public good.

“It’s just interesting that it’s going to be harder for graduate programs to get approved and easier for education companies that have their programs approved under the new regulations,” he said, referencing the previous discussion on outsourcing.

“I just think that we’re not really looking at all of the issues here, and picking on graduate education I don’t think is fair because the the last few years, there’s been a lot in terms of defunding for graduate students … and this seems like another attack on the graduate education, and the students always lose in the end,” he continued.

Federal negotiator Annmarie Weisman said she didn’t “want the perception to be left with you that we just want to rush through things and hurry,” with regard to the proposed changes.

“We want to accelerate processes that aren’t working if we can get new programs out there so we can get students enrolled, but not at their expense,” she said. “And again, if this language isn’t working, if you feel that we’re headed in the wrong direction, then let’s talk specifically about what language will get us to there because you’ve now heard me say this is our goal.”

The group then decided to, for the time being, delete the language referencing the expansion of scope with regard to graduate education.

The committee on Thursday is expected to continue discussions on state authorization, the TEACH Grant program, and faith-based issues.

 

Publication Date: 3/28/2019


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