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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

ED Proposes Changes to Accreditation Rules

August 7, 2009

Continuing its drive to implement the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), the Department of Education issued proposed regulations on accreditation on August 6. Although the rules are aimed at accrediting agencies, institutions will be affected by the policies these agencies are required to adopt. Topics addressed include distance education, direct assessment programs, due process requirements, and monitoring and reevaluation of programs. Comments are due September 8.

Key provisions that may interest business officers include:

Direct Assessment Programs. The accrediting agencies' role in accrediting direct assessment programs would be clarified. A direct assessment program is defined as "an instructional program that, in lieu of credit hours or clock hours as a measure of student learning, utilizes direct assessment of student learning, or recognizes the direct assessment of student learning by others, and meets the conditions of 34 CFR 668.10." The cited regulation discusses direct assessment programs that are eligible for Title IV aid.

Distance Education.  The HEOA requires that, if an accrediting agency includes or seeks to include distance education programs within its scope of recognition, the agency's standards must effectively address the quality of such programs. Agencies' standards must require institutions to have processes in place to establish distance education students' identities. The proposed regulations suggest that institutions could meet this standard by using secure login and pass codes, proctored examinations, or other technologies.

Due Process.  Accrediting agencies would be required to have written specifications of the requirements for accreditation that include clear standards for an institution or program to be accredited. They would also be required to provide institutions with detailed written reports clearly identifying any compliance deficiencies. Agencies would also have to ensure that institutions are given sufficient opportunity to respond to complaints before the agency makes a decision regarding a complaint.

Monitoring and Reevaluation.  The proposed rules would expand and clarify the standards for how accrediting agencies monitor accredited institutions. Accrediting agencies would be required to have effective approaches to monitoring that "include periodic reports and collection and analysis of key data and indicators identified by the agency, including, but not limited to, fiscal information and measures of student achievement."

Substantive Change.  The proposed rules make several changes to the list of events that are considered substantive changes to programs offered by accredited institutions.  Substantive changes would include: the addition of programs of study at a degree or credential level different than those previously offered or that represent a significant departure from existing offerings, or the contracting out more than 25 percent of an educational program to entities not eligible to participate in Title IV programs on their own.


Anne Gross
Vice President, Regulatory Affairs