Accreditation and the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act Page: 4 of 14
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Accreditation and the Reauthorization
of the Higher Education Act
Under the Higher Education Act (HEA), institutions of higher education (IHEs)
must be accredited by an agency or association recognized by the Secretary of the
U.S. Department of Education (ED) to participate in HEA Title IV federal student aid
programs.1 While this process is voluntary, failure to obtain accreditation could have
a dramatic effect on an institution's student enrollment, as only students attending
accredited institutions are eligible to receive federal student aid (e.g., Pell grants and
student loans). Accrediting agencies are private organizations set up to review the
qualifications of member institutions based on self-initiated quality guidelines and
This process and its critical role in determining institutional eligibility to
participate in Title IV has sometimes been controversial.2 As the 109th Congress
considers reauthorizing the HEA, it may consider making changes to the role
accreditation plays with respect to federal student aid or to the accreditation process
itself, such as the factors accrediting agencies must consider when evaluating an
institution. This report provides an overview of some of the possible accreditation
issues that Congress may address during the reauthorization process, and summarizes
key legislative action with respect to accreditation.3
20 U.S.C. 1002, 1099c. The provisions that govern the recognition of accrediting
agencies may be found at 20 U.S.C. 1099b. See also HEA 102 and 496. For the
purposes of this report, the term "accrediting agency" encompasses both accrediting
agencies and associations.
2 See U.S. Congress, House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Subcommittee on
21St Century Competitiveness, H.R. 4283, the College Access and Opportunity Act: Does
Accreditation Provide Student and Parents with Accountability and Quality?, hearings,
108'h Cong., 2004. (Hereafter cited as House Subcommittee on 21St Century
Competitiveness, Accreditation.) Also see "Opening the Door on Accreditation," (July 16,
2004); and "A Common Yardstick? The Bush Administration Wants to Standardize
Accreditation; Educators Say It Is Too Complex for That," (Aug. 15, 2003), both from The
Chronicle of Higher Education.
3 For detailed information about institutional eligibility to participate in Title IV programs,
the accreditation process, or federal requirements for accreditation, see CRS Report
RL31926, Institutional Eligibility for Participation in Title IV Student Aid Programs Under
the Higher Education Act: Background and Issues, by Rebecca Skinner.
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Accreditation and the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, report, March 27, 2006; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc817460/m1/4/: accessed January 20, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.