Knowing the legislative background surrounding the accreditation process is critical to a full understanding of the accreditation issue. The Department of Education has developed rules and regulations concerning procedures and criteria for recognition of accrediting agencies. The purpose of the Secretary of Education's recognition of accrediting agencies is to make certain that agencies are assuring that the institutions of higher education they accredit are providing quality education/training. Accreditation of nursing schools falls within the jurisdiction of these rules and regulations which are contained in the Federal Register Vol. 59, No. 82, Friday, April 29, 1994. This document responds to provisions in the Higher Education Acts (HEA) of 1965, 1992 and 1993. I will provide a synopsis of the Secretary of Education's Procedures and Criteria; however, the entire document is available electronically.
Institutions must satisfy the statutory definition of an "institution of higher education" in order to qualify for student financial assistance programs authorized under Title IV of the HEA. One part of the definition requires the institution to be accredited or preaccredited by an accrediting agency, recognized by the Secretary of Education, as a reliable authority pertaining to the quality of the education/training provided by the institution. The institution must also be certified as fiscally responsible and administratively capable. Therefore, only institutions of higher education that provide students with quality education/training and are financially and administratively sound are entitled to Title IV HEA funds for student aid. The function of the accrediting agency is to assure that the quality is present. The federal government and states share responsibility for ensuring that funding is only received by sound institutions. States provide the legal authority to operate within the state and review institutions that meet certain statutory review criteria related to institutional performance in the Title IV, HEA programs. The federal government's role relates to the administrative and fiscal ability of the institutions to participate in the Title IV, HEA programs. Whereas the responsibilities and functions of the accrediting agency, state and federal government are basically different, in some areas all three groups evaluate similar areas as required by statute.
Part H of Title IV (Program Integrity Triad) was added to the HEA in 1992 and includes requirements that accrediting agencies must meet if they are to be recognized by the Secretary of Education as "gatekeepers" for Title IV or other Federal purposes. These responsibilities of accrediting agencies created a stronger and more coordinated evaluation of institutions of higher education.
Major changes of the 1994 HEA accreditation requirements included the following:
- requiring accreditation agencies, whose accreditation enables the institutions they accredit to participate in programs authorized under the HEA, to be administratively and financially separate from and independent of any related, associated, or affiliated trade association or membership organization
- adding two steps to the process by which accrediting agencies are recognized by the Secretary of Education
- making unannounced site visits to an accrediting agency or its member institution/program by the Department of Education
- enabling the Secretary of Education to limit, suspend, or terminate an agency's recognition if the Secretary determines that the agency has failed to meet the requirements for recognition
- eliminating the provision that in order to demonstrate experience in accreditation, an agency had to demonstrate that its policies, decisions and evaluation methods were accepted by recognized accrediting agencies throughout the U.S.
- requiring accrediting agencies to conduct at least one unannounced inspection (not as comprehensive as a full accreditation review) of each institution that provides vocational education/training (an instructional program below the bachelor's level designed to prepare individuals with the skills and training required for employment in a specific trade occupation, or profession, related to the instructional program)
- requiring accrediting agencies to assess any new or substantively changed program before including it in the agency's prior grant of accreditation; the substantive change requirement applies only to institutional accrediting agencies
- requiring an accrediting agency to take adverse action against an institution/program that fails to bring itself into compliance with agency standards within a time frame established by the agency (may be between 12 months to 24 months depending on the program's length)
- requiring accrediting agencies to approve a business plan for new branch campuses prior to their opening and an on site review within 6 months when institutions initiate new branch campuses
- requiring on-site review within 6 months at any institution that undergoes a change in ownership and control
- requiring teach-out agreements with other institutions to be submitted to accrediting agencies that are consistent with standards and regulations
- notifying accreditation agencies if the Secretary of Education takes an action against an institution/program or learns of another Federal agency taking action against the institution/program
- requiring notification of the Secretary of Education at the same time accrediting agencies notify an institution/program of a final adverse accrediting action
Part 602, Secretary's Procedures and Criteria for the Recognition of Accrediting Agencies, is also contained in the Federal Register. Subpart A includes general provisions, Subpart B includes recognition and termination procedures, and Subpart C includes criteria for secretarial recognition. Agencies are reviewed by Department officials, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, and the Secretary of Education.
In summary, the major purpose of rules and regulations for accrediting agencies is to make certain that agencies are assuring that the institutions of higher education they accredit are providing quality education/training. Accreditation failure results in the inability to receive federal funding for student financial assistance programs authorized under Title IV, HEA.
THE AUTHORGreer Glazer, PhD, RN, FAAN
Director, Parent Child Nursing
College of Nursing
Kent State University
Kent, OH 44202
E-mail Address: GGlazer@kent.edu
Dr. Glazer is Professor and Director of Parent Child Nursing at Kent State University College of Nursing. Besides her many research activities in the field of women's health and stress, Dr. Glazer is chairman of the Ohio Nurses' Association Government Affairs Committee, a combination legislation committee and PAC. She is currently the legislative liaison to congressman Steve LaTourette and has previously been on health care committees at the state and national level. Locally she serves on the Board of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Children's Trust Fund and recently completed four years on the Health Care Committee allocation panel for United Way in Cuyahoga County.
Article published July 31, 1997