Changing Accreditation: 2019 Negotiated Rulemaking Effort
This year, the Department of Education (DOE) invited stakeholders within the American education industry to a series of meetings called Negotiated Rulemaking in Washington D.C. to discuss how to make changes to policy going forward.
What is Negotiated Rulemaking?
While negotiated rulemaking (Reg Neg) isn’t unique to the Department of Education (DOE), we’ll focus on how it relates to the DOE in this post. Basically, they are required to bring together relevant stakeholders to discuss potential changes to rules and policies. This year, a lot of the focus has been put on accreditation, state authorization, and the financial aid system.
There is a full committee with voting rights, plus three subcommittees that are more specialized but do not have voting rights. The three subcommittees will meet and discuss the topics at hand and provide feedback to the full committee that will then be considered when making a final decision.
When is it Happening?
The first sessions took place January 14-18 and they will meet again in mid-February and mid-March.
What’s at Stake in 2019?
Higher education and accrediting agencies are taking center stage in 2019. The relationships between distance education, accrediting agencies, and state authorization are complex. One of the key focuses of this year’s commission is making an attempt to clarify those relationships.
According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), this year’s Reg Neg will look at requirements for accreditors in their oversight of institutions, criteria used by the Secretary to recognize accrediting organizations, and clarification of the responsibilities for each member of the “triad” (accreditors, states, and DOE).
If you want to see specific wording for this year’s proposed changes to regulations, you can read more about them here.
Accrediting agencies are meant to be gatekeepers for higher education. They monitor and regulate higher education institutions and ensure that students who attend their programs will get a quality education. Likewise, “the Education Department’s role is to review and approve accrediting agencies as reliable authorities of college quality” (Center for American Progress).
In 1992, the Higher Education Amendments were passed to establish standards for how accreditors evaluate colleges and universities. Most are still in place, with a few modifications with regards to distance education programs. However, the 2018 Inspector General’s report showed weaknesses in how accrediting agencies are monitored by the DOE (Center for American Progress). Because of this, there will be a discussion about how the DOE should regulate accrediting agencies going forward.
A second focus for the committees, according to Campus Technology, is that of state authorization. Distance education is inherently different from traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. Because distance education offers the opportunity to study from anywhere, the issue of state authorization for programs becomes complicated.
Currently, the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) attempts to make accreditation and regulations more effective and efficient nationwide by working with individual states to create agreements for how schools must operate and standards that must be met. At Reg Neg, there is less of an interest from committees to get rid of SARA and more so concerns over how SARA operates because of clashes between state authorizations and SARA (Inside Higher Ed).
After the first meetings in January, Inside Higher Ed reported that SARA will likely not be affected by federal rulemaking, but state authorization will continue to be a topic of conversation in the February and March meetings.
Distance education is a growing option for higher education students. More and more professionals see it as a viable option to further their careers because of the flexibility it offers. However, regulations for such programs still fall in a grey area because of how they differ in delivery and implementation. It has become increasingly necessary to modify standards of recognition for programs that are delivered online and do not necessarily have face-to-face interaction between students and faculty.
If you would like to read the proposed regulation, you can find it here.
The ways in which higher education, especially distance education, are regulated is a complex issue. The 2019 Reg Neg meetings provide an opportunity to discuss such issues among stakeholders in the industry. While huge changes may not come out of these meetings, they are an attempt to make progress with making the system for accreditation, state authorization, and financial aid more fair, efficient, and beneficial to everyone.
Author: Megan Menendez
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