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The federal government’s long-awaited final new regulations for accrediting postsecondary institutions are out — and the results are mixed. We see some encouraging steps forward, but also some troubling oversights. In short, there is still plenty of work to do.
The Department of Education announced these new regulations last week, which include rules governing state authorization of distance, or online, education. This long-anticipated decision is the result of a negotiated rulemaking process that began in the summer of 2018. The rule will take effect in July 2020.
Many organizations and groups that work on higher education policy have watched this process closely, as have we. Lumina submitted a comment on the proposed rule, urging that accreditors sharply focus on what matters most to today’s students. This means an emphasis not on administrative box-checking, but instead striving to ensure positive student outcomes, particularly for those who have traditionally been left out or left behind.
While the changes that will stem from these regulations are well-intentioned and aim to facilitate increased innovation in higher education, a likely result is the weakening of institutional oversight from states, accreditors, and the federal government.
Most of all, we’re concerned that the new rules allow colleges to get quicker approvals from agencies for changes to their academic programs, and with it, a faster path to federal financial aid dollars. This means students have fewer protections from low-quality institutions and programs.
And, to make matters worse, institutions or programs will be allowed to be out of compliance with accreditor requirements for up to the better part of a decade — enough time for a student to complete a bachelor’s degree without seeing any improvements or serious action from the institution’s accrediting agency.
What these new rules have not changed is the interconnected nature of our quality assurance system; in fact, that design is more crucial than ever. It is urgent for all of us — accrediting organizations, state agencies, the federal government, communities and advocates — to partner as we continue to upgrade and modernize approaches to assuring and improving quality and protecting students’ interests.
That’s why Lumina is developing resources to assist the broader community in defining and advancing an equity-minded quality agenda, while supporting accrediting organizations and state agencies as they work to advance new policies and practices to meet students’ changing needs.
And, yes, we’ll continue to push for regulations that — if done correctly — are a vital part of our higher education system’s ability to help all Americans get the education they seek and deserve.
New Rules on Accreditation and State Authorization | Inside HigherEd | Nov. 1, 2019
Select public comments on new accreditation proposal: