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ED Lays Out Rules to Overhaul Higher Ed

The U.S. Department of Education is starting the rulemaking process to address several topics in the higher education space.

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The U.S Department of Education is looking to address several issues in the Federal Student Aid process through a new rulemaking process announced on Jan. 7 by agency officials. The proposed regulations address accreditation, distance learning, TEACH grants and faith-based entities through a negotiated rulemaking process. ED will be holding a series of meetings over the next few months with subcommittees to evaluate each of the proposed regulation areas.

The first set of meetings will occur on Jan. 14-16 at the ED headquarters in Washington, D.C. The negotiated rulemaking sessions will focus on the accreditation and innovation section of the proposals. This section allows accreditors to move from the current process of federal accreditation to the original practice of regional accreditation, which allows regional agencies to support activities that are unique or exclusive to a region in the country.

"The Department further believes some regional agencies have abused the current distinction to push a false narrative that the Department considers regional accreditation to be superior to national accreditation. Many institutions have denied well-qualified students attending nationally accredited institutions the opportunity to transfer credits, attend graduate programs, and enjoy other benefits that should rightfully belong to all students attending institutions with recognized accreditation," according to summary document on the accreditation and innovation section.

When it comes to waivers in the accreditation process, ED is looking for recommendations from accreditors on when and how agencies should be allowed to grant waivers to institutions. ED also wants to require agencies to clearly define their policies for the retroactive application of accreditation decisions, to ensure that the first classes of students in new majors are not precluded from a final accreditation decision until after the first cohort of students graduate. The rulemaking would also allow agencies to develop their own policies and procedures for how often that they want to conduct reviews.

Other proposals in the rulemaking documents include:

  • Dropping the credit-hour definition and letting accreditors and colleges determine how to evaluate student progress;
  • Prohibiting accreditors from acting against a college that doesn't meet accreditation standards if the institution is adhering to a religious mission based its policies and procedures;
  • Easing restrictions on alternative education providers that restrict accreditors to only sign off on programs that are more than 25 percent outsourced;
  • Creating new rules on the flow of federal student aid under a subscription-based program where students get an initial amount of aid and need to complete a certain number of credits to receive additional aid; and
  • Giving ED the power to keep federal student aid flowing for a college up to 120 days after federal funding is terminated under a teach-out plan.

The proposed rulemaking provisions for the Federal Student Aid process also seek to reverse rules instated under the Obama administration to centralize higher education under the federal government.

"The parade of programs, repayment options and complex rules serves no one well. Everything has become more cumbersome and confusing for everyone. The government monopoly has proven costly to taxpayers and it hasn't been a panacea for students either," said ED Secretary Betsy DeVos in Nov. 28 speech at an FSA training conference.

More information on all of the proposed rulemaking documents can be found here.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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