Spotlight Cast on Accreditation

DC Shuttle …

HELP Committee Holds College Accreditation Hearing. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). Entitled, “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Evaluating Accreditation’s Role in Ensuring Quality,” the hearing was the fourth hearing of this Congress on the topic. Previous hearings focused on college affordability, institutional risk-sharing and consumer information. During the hearing, lawmakers heard from a variety of accreditation and higher education experts. The issue of accreditation has received increased national attention following the collapse of the Corinthian College system and the subsequent debt strike by graduates complaining their education failed to prepare them for the workplace. Witnesses included Albert C. Gray, the CEO of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which accredited Corinthian Colleges. According to Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Gray received criticism from several senators, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who said, “It (Corinthian Colleges) sucked down more and more federal aid, while the private accrediting organization collected more and more fees.” Lawmakers and panelists proposed a variety of fixes to the accreditation process, ranging from scrapping private accreditation altogether to developing a common system of terminology and standards for accreditation firms to use while reviewing colleges. The Chattanoogan reported that Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) advocated for accreditation firms in his opening remarks, saying, “There’s really not another way to do this—to monitor quality. Because if accreditation doesn’t do it, I can assure you that Congress can’t. And the Department of Education certainly doesn’t have the capacity or know-how.” Accreditation was the subject of a recent Wall Street Journal article on how the process can be burdensome for colleges.

Senators Introduce Digital Equity Act. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced the Digital Learning Equity Act. The legislation would support “innovative ways to improve student access to the Internet and other digital learning resources outside of the classroom,” according to a joint press release from the senators. A summary of the legislation on the senators’ websites, stated that nearly one-third of low-income households with children lack a high-speed connection, while 96% of school districts assign homework that requires Internet use. The bill would seek to help these students without Internet access, a problem which disproportionately affects low-income, minority and rural students.

Changes to Head Start Proposed. The Department of Health and Human Services announced a series of changes to the Head Start program. A blog post from the White House said, “(we) believe that these new standard will better support the healthy development, safety, and early learning of Head Start children for years to come.” The changes include standards encouraging programs to operate for a full school day and a full school year, according to Education Week.

House Releases Ed Department Spending Bill. The Republican leaders of the House Appropriations Committee released a draft bill for funding for the Department of Education. According to the committee press release, the bill would fund the Department of Education for fiscal year 2016 at $64.4 billion—$2.8 billion below fiscal year 2015 levels and $6.4 billion below President Obama’s budget request. Inside Higher Ed reports that the bill would prevent the department from using funds to carry out “gainful employment” regulations or to implement a ratings system on colleges and universities.

CFPB Criticizes Lenders for Refusing Co-Signer Releases. Major student loan financers rejected 90% of requests for co-signer releases made over the course of a year, according to a report released by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB). The agency said such refusals could hurt the finances and credit of both borrowers and co-signers, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Meanwhile, the first-ever student loan ombudsman at the CFPB Rohit Chopra will be leaving his post after four years, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Standards for Competency-Based Programs May Be Nearing. The Education Department and accreditors may be nearing a resolution on how to approve competency-based programs, according to Inside Higher Ed. The Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions issued a common framework in early June, establishing standards by which to review competency-based programs. The Education Department released a letter in response, which echoed many of their points.

Campus Sexual Assault Speeches. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) gave speeches on the importance of passing campus sexual assault legislation. McCaskill spoke to a group of collegiate directors of athletics, urging them to hold athletes responsible, Inside Higher Ed reported. Gillibrand spoke to Politico’s Debrief video series about her work with sexual assault on campuses, expressing optimism about the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which she and McCaskill are cosponsoring.

Report Details Ways to Best Serve Returning Adult Students. A new report compiled by Higher Ed Insight, a research firm, looks at challenges returning adult students face and outlines policy and practice changes to help support these students. According to Inside Higher Ed, the report is an evaluation of the Lumina Foundation’s work on adult college completion.

Report Studies Success of Associate Degree Holders. A report released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that 41% of students who earned associate degrees in 2008 and 2009 went on to earn bachelor’s degrees within six years. About 61% of students who were age 20 or younger at the time they received associate degrees went on to earn bachelor’s degrees—the highest percentage of any group.

Article Studies the Downside of Parent PLUS Loans. An article from Politico looked at the Parent PLUS loan program, which serves 3.2 million borrowers and is one of the most profitable of the approximately 120 federal lending programs. The article said, “one opportunistic lender is making huge profits on loans to their (students’) doting moms and dads … that lender is the United States government.”

We publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington collected by the New England Council, of which NEBHE is a member. This edition is drawn from the Higher Education Update in the Council’s Weekly Washington Report of June 22, 2015. Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit:



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