Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

Colleges Could Find Access to Federal Aid Easier Under Rule

January 6, 2019 Emily Wilkins
  • Education Dept. releases draft regulation for negotiations
  • Rule would ease criteria for accrediting agency approval

Organizations offering college degrees and other post-secondary education credentials could have an easier time getting a slice of the $120 billion in annual federal student aid under a draft proposal by the federal government.

The changes were laid out in a draft regulation from the Education Department obtained by Bloomberg Government. The changes will be debated later this month by a group made up of students, colleges, loan servicers, state agencies and others. The negotiations are part of the process to finalize a regulation on standards for college accrediting agencies, which review college quality and certify whether schools should be eligible to receive federal loans and grants.

Organizations seeking to become accreditors would no longer have to wait two years before applying to the federal government for recognition under the draft text. Accrediting agencies would no longer need to submit annual reports to the department and colleges would have more flexibility to make changes without getting advance approval from an accreditor.

Photo – Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg
The Education Department released a draft proposal to ease the regulation of college accrediting organizations.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has emphasized the importance of allowing higher education institutions and accreditors to experiment. A higher education agenda released by the department in December said an increase in regulations “has squelched the innovation necessary to achieve the improved outcomes that these regulations sought to achieve in the first place.”

The department also is proposing to:

  • Give colleges more flexibility to define a credit hour, which ties the amount of time students spend on a class to the amount of federal aid they receive. The Obama administration crafted a more detailed description after some colleges inflated credit hours to bring in more federal aid dollars and hasten program completion.
  • Allow the department to recognize accreditors who are in substantive, but not full, compliance with federal requirements.
  • Provide more flexibility for how instructors and students interact in distance education programs.
  • Remove limitations to federal grant and loan forgiveness programs for students and borrowers working in religious institutions.
  • Broaden the definition of a religious institution and allowing those schools to switch accreditors if their current accreditors discriminate against their mission.

The talks over the regulation will start Jan. 14, and include three sessions before the end of March. Because the regulation is expected to cover a wide range of topics, the department has created three separate negotiation subcommittees to cover distance and innovation, a teacher grant program, and faith-based entities.

Here is a text of the proposal:

Institutional Eligibility 
Accreditation
Robert C Byrd Program
Student Assistance General Provisions
Agenda
Protocols
Summary Institutional Eligibility
Summary Accreditation
Summary Robert C Byrd Honors Scholarship 
Summary Student Assistance General Provisions 
Summary TEACH Grants
Summary Religious Inclusion

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Jonathan Nicholson at jnicholson@bgov.com

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