Similar to legislative and regulatory initiatives pertaining to health reform that are described on the previous page of this newsletter, higher education also is affected by events that occur in those two arenas. A most important piece of legislation in need of concerted action is reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Last reauthorized in 2008, since 2013 it has been sustained by a series of short-term continuing resolutions (CRs). Whether this important task will be completed in 2019 is uncertain.

One way of assessing what may unfold involving higher education is to chart the activities of key officials when they appear in public to make presentations. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on December 19, 2018 met with leaders of the American Council of Education (ACE) at that organization’s headquarters to discuss higher education policy. She used accreditation as an example of how to approach the current educational system. She requested her listeners to rethink which parts of the Department’s accreditation regulations and guidance are related directly to educational quality and student experience, and which parts are ambiguous, repetitious, or unnecessarily burdensome. She also asked how the Department could clarify the roles and responsibilities of each entity within the higher education “triad,” consisting of the federal government (which has a focus on administrative and fiscal integrity of student financial aid programs), state governments (which issue licenses to academic institutions), and accreditation organizations (which assure acceptable levels of quality in teaching and learning).

Rethinking Higher Education

As part of her remarks, the Secretary released the document “Rethinking Higher Education,” which identifies the following goals:

  • It is time to challenge our past practices, assumptions, and expectations about what “college” is, what it should be, and how it should operate.

  • It is time to restore institutional autonomy and respect for an institution’s unique mission.

  • It is time to value the unique goals and challenges that each student brings to the postsecondary experience.

  • It is time to include in our assessment of institutions the contributions that each school makes to help its students’ success.

  • It is time to streamline regulations so as to avoid government intrusion.

  • It is time to promote innovation.

  • It is time to allow new entrants to educational delivery and reject efforts to maintain the status quo.

Rethinking Higher Education: Accreditation

A second document also was released that outlines some of the following goals:

  • Restore “substantial compliance” as the standard for recognition.

  • Restore the regulatory triad by more clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of accreditors, the states, and the Department in oversight of Title IV participating institutions of higher education.

  • Increase academic and career mobility for students by eliminating artificial boundaries between institutions due to credential levels an institution offers or the agency that accredits the institution or its programs.

  • Provide greater flexibility for institutions to engage in innovative educational practices and meet local and national workforce needs.

  • Within the confines of law, protect institutional autonomy, honor individual campus missions, and afford schools the opportunity to build campus communities based on shared values.

  • Reward institutional value-added, not student selectivity.

  • Modify “substantive change” requirements to provide greater flexibility to institutions to innovate and respond to the needs of students and employers.

  • Streamline and clarify the Department’s accreditor recognition process.

  • Encourage and enable accreditors to support innovative practices, grant limited accreditation to experimental pedagogies, provide support to accreditors when they take adverse actions, and allow sanctions that do not mandate “all or nothing” access to Title IV.

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