Secretary DeVos Finalizes Higher Education Regulations that Promote Innovation, Protect Students, and Reduce Regulatory Burden

OCTOBER 31, 2019

WASHINGTON—As part of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ Rethink Higher Education agenda, the U.S. Department of Education today announced the publication of final accreditation and state authorization distance education regulations designed to expand educational options for students, holistically lower the cost of education post-high school, and ensure occupationally-focused education meets current workforce needs.

“These final regulations demonstrate our commitment to working with student, State, employer, and institutional representatives to develop sound policies that serve the best interests of students,” said Secretary DeVos. “These reforms are necessary to bring higher education into the current century, to be more responsive to the needs of students, and to reduce the skyrocketing cost of higher education.”

The regulations also align accountability requirements with an institution’s mission rather than paperwork and process and seek to clarify that all institutional accreditors are held to the same standards by the Department of Education. As a result, students should not face barriers to career entry and mobility, or to continuing education, based solely on which accreditor oversees the school they attended.

Secretary DeVos continued, “As we have done since the beginning of this Administration, we asked ourselves and our negotiating partners to consider why we do the things we do, and if there might be a better way moving forward. We rejected the idea that one-size-fits-all solutions make sense in a world where education needs continue to evolve in our dynamic economy. And we ended the stranglehold that a system designed when people traveled by horse and buggy continued to have on institutions. Accreditation has played a role in the bloat that has taken place in higher education administration, and it is time to right size bureaucracy and allow institutions to redirect their resources to students and teaching.”

The State Authorization of Distance and Correspondence Education regulations have also been updated and streamlined. The revisions make clear an institution’s responsibilities and the role of State reciprocity agreements while ensuring students have the information they need to make informed decisions. States that join a reciprocity agreement can no longer layer additional State higher education authorization requirements on institutions that participate but can continue to apply other State laws and regulations that apply to all entities doing business in a State.

The final regulations will provide students with more options to pursue a higher education credential of value, transfer credits between institutions, and qualify for career advancement. For example, these regulations:

  • Level the playing field by ending unfounded distinctions between accreditors based on the geographic area in which they perform their work
  • Create opportunities for new accreditors that give priority to student needs and outcomes rather than academic traditions that primarily benefit faculty
  • Counter the inclination of faculty, professional societies, and licensing boards to rachet up the entry level postsecondary credential required to work in certain occupations
  • Enable students and institutions to leverage state-of-the art facilities maintained by companies, unions, and trade associations – as well as the expertise of the subject matter experts these organizations employ – to improve educational quality and outcomes and reduce the cost of providing education to students in areas where equipment is expensive and technology evolves rapidly
  • Enable more institutions, including rural institutions, to provide low-cost or no-cost dual enrollment opportunities to students while still in high school
  • Speed up approval of new programs and curricular changes to ensure that what students learn in school keeps pace with what employers demand in the workplace
  • Empower employers to help engage more actively in program development and review
  • Inform student choice by helping students determine which programs are mostly likely to prepare them to meet the licensure or certification requirements in certain occupations
  • Update Department rules to ensure that students who elect to complete their credential abroad have the opportunity to complete part of their program in the U.S. or to take courses offered by other institutions in the country in which they are enrolled

The regulations will take effect on July 1, 2020, with the exception of select provisions necessary to implement new timelines for recognition of accrediting agencies. To view the final rule in its entirety, click here.

The Department will also soon publish proposed rules based on the consensus agreements reached on topics related to distance education and innovation, as well as TEACH grants and the equitable treatment of faith-based institutions.