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In a time of transitioning administrations, we ask, where do we go from here?

by Brenda Amaya, DEAC Accreditation Coordinator

For the last several weeks, Washington, D.C. seems to have been stifled by a cloud of uncertainty. Where do we go from here?You may have been wondering, will the Department of Education be dismantled? How will the new administration impact the education landscape? And most importantly, should you create a twitter account? Or better yet: If you have one, should you delete it?

With the confirmation of the new U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, the lingering cloud appears to be dispersing offering us an indication of the department’s likely direction for the next four years. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) annual conference down the street from the White House. The conference presentations shed light on a multitude of issues and I hope to provide you with greater insight on the anticipated shifts of our education landscape.

This year’s conference featured congressional members from both sides of the aisle, each of whom spoke on the current political environment and its impact on the education landscape. I have summarized a comparison of the political stances of Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), Chair, House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Member, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. My key takeaways from these presentations are:

Prospects of Federal Regulation

  • Foxx explained that regulations would be rolled back under the new administration. Constraining regulations have contributed to the overwhelming administrative burden, and Foxx indicated that the House committee would focus on eliminating unnecessary cost to encourage continued support for accreditation standards. She said that, ultimately, it should be within the accreditor’s discretion to determine the manner of assessing quality of education.
  • Warren’s speech was a call to action for accreditors to actively participate with the federal government in safeguarding the government’s investment in education. She explained that it was not necessary for federal regulations to mandate the role of accreditors to protect students and that accreditors should work with the government by sharing information to take action against abusive institutions.

Deciding the Accreditor’s Role

  • Foxx agreed that accreditors should be entrusted to assess quality of education. She also cautioned that limited government reach does not excuse accreditors from their commitment to quality and improved student outcomes. Foxx explained that Congress’ role is not to direct accreditors on what is considered high-quality education, nor is it to indicate the outcomes that need to be monitored.
  • Warren expressed her continued support of reform for the broken accreditation system that primarily focuses on inputs as opposed to the direct assessment of outcomes. Warren explained that, if accreditors are negligent in their responsibility to protect students, the federal government is willing to take responsibility, no matter how large the accreditor or how many schools it oversees. Her speech invoked the previous administration’s endorsement of accreditors as enforcers of federal regulation.

The Promise for Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

Foxx and Warren have opposing views on most issues, but they agreed on the obligation to prioritize the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).

  • Foxx expressed optimism about the reauthorization of the HEA. She explained that the committee is currently working on the issue, but it does not have a timeline. Foxx said, “While HEA reauthorization is a top priority, it is not our only education priority.”
  • Warren reiterated her support of the previously proposed Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act. Sens. Warren, Dick Durban, D-Ill., and Brian Schat, D-Hawaii, originally introduced the bill last year. The bill (1) proposes that the Department of Education establish outcome data that accreditors could use to monitor institutions, (2) requires accreditors to act aggressively and swiftly to sanction abusive institutions, and (3) requires accreditors to continue to ensure accountability of institutions.

The administration’s new direction remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: We must move forward. As you consider this insight, do you anticipate a new direction for your institution?

Brenda Amaya is the Accreditation Coordinator for the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). She has been part of the DEAC team since 2012.

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