Education Department Backtracks on Accreditation

February 13, 2019

The Trump administration backtracked this week on two proposals that would reshape the role of college accreditors.

The administration in January embarked on a rule-making process to overhaul the standards for accreditors, which act as the gatekeepers for federal student aid. But it came under fire from those organizations and colleges themselves for a proposed change that would alter the geographic scope of regional accreditors.

The Education Department suggested in its proposal last month requiring that regional accreditors -- which oversee most public and nonprofit colleges -- operate in no fewer than three but no more than nine contiguous states. New language released by the department this week dropped that standard. But it kept a requirement that all branch campuses be located within a region, which would be troublesome for colleges that maintain campuses in other states.

Another proposal would have lifted the current 50 percent cap on instructional programs that colleges could outsource to unaccredited partners, a move that was criticized by consumer advocates.

Current rules allow colleges to outsource up to 25 percent of a program without their accreditor’s approval and between 25 and 50 percent of the program with the accreditor’s blessing. New language offered from the department this week would allow colleges to use a third-party provider for up to half of a program without approval and up to 75 percent after their accreditor signs off.

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