Letter from the President - March 2019

Dear Colleagues:
 
Once again, I’ve got an eye on federal policy. This semester, as you teach and evaluate and advise, a negotiated rulemaking is underway in Washington, D.C. that will shape the regulatory landscape for accreditation and student protections. The rulemaking is certain to have both practical and far-reaching implications for many academic practices.

Some of the most unexpected proposals and active discussion during the rulemaking centered on accreditation. You may have heard the U.S. Department of Education proposed changes that would alter the scope of regional accrediting agencies or require a shift to a national accreditation model.
 
Many questions were raised about the need and purpose for the changes and the uncertainty that would result. Most importantly, concerns were raised about whether the effect of the changes could weaken standards for accreditors that protect students and accountability.

The negotiated rulemaking is also evaluating the definitions of credit hour and “regular and substantive interaction,” attempting to maintain protections against the abusive practices that led to the rules in the first place without stifling flexibility. Additionally, negotiators are tackling complex questions related to faith-based institutions, including federal grant program eligibility and whether missions are appropriately respected in accreditation reviews.
 
If negotiators reach consensus on regulatory changes by early April, those agreements will be published as Proposed Rules by the Department. If consensus is not reached, the Department publishes its preferred regulatory changes. Either way, the public – which includes all of us – can comment on the proposal, and the Department considers those comments when developing the final rules that could go into effect as early as July 1, 2020.

One final bit of federal news: Congress continues its efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. The House Committee on Education and Labor is planning a series of hearings on accreditation, affordability, and innovation this spring, and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is hoping for a new Higher Education Act as his ‘capstone project’ after a career that includes U.S. Secretary of Education, Tennessee governor, and university president.
 
Throughout these processes, WSCUC will work to articulate the value of higher education and accreditation, to preserve authority needed to protect students, and to maintain flexibility to support adaptation and innovation.
 
Sincerely,


Jamienne S. Studley, President

P.S. I hope to see you at the  Academic Resource Conference April 10 – 12 in Garden Grove, California. We have an exceptional lineup of plenary speakers, concurrent sessions, and showcases for #2019ARC but we need YOU -- your experience and curiosity, your insistence that we do our best for our students and institutions -- to join the discussion to truly maximize this event. Register right now!