Biden-Harris Administration Takes Next Steps on Rulemaking to Strengthen Institutional Quality and Program Integrity

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Biden-Harris Administration Takes Next Steps on Rulemaking to Strengthen Institutional Quality and Program Integrity

Issue papers outline how the Administration is working towards ensuring high-quality educational opportunities for students
January 2, 2024

The Biden-Harris Administration today moved forward in its efforts to help ensure students are well served by the institutions of higher education they attend and that Federal Student Aid programs work in their best interest. Today, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) released six issue papers across a range of categories to further these goals, which will be discussed during the first meeting of the Institutional Quality and Program Integrity Committee, meeting January 8-11.

The issue papers include proposals to ensure that accrediting agencies and state authorizing agencies -- key pillars of program integrity, along with the federal government -- are appropriately holding institutions accountable for providing high-quality educational opportunities. They also include proposals to create more consumer-friendly policies to ensure students have access to their aid to help cover college costs and receive fair treatment across aid programs. Finally, the proposals include expanding eligibility to TRIO programs to help serve disadvantaged student populations.

“The Biden-Harris Administration remains committed to ensuring that higher education institutions and programs are held accountable for delivering on their promise of a better future for students and our financial aid programs are helping students accomplish their goals,” said U.S. Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal. “These efforts are another step in improving the higher education system and ensuring colleges are providing all students with high-quality opportunities for upward social and economic mobility.”

The topics on the agenda for the first meeting of the Institutional Quality and Program Integrity Committee include:

  • Cash Management rules which govern the procedures institutions must follow for issuing and managing Title IV aid. Proposals seek to create more student-friendly policies to ensure students receive the aid to which they are entitled.
  • Return of Title IV Funds rules which outline the process institutions must conduct when a student ceases attendance during a payment period or period of enrollment. Proposals would prevent balances from becoming immediately due and streamline and simplify the process for institutions.
  • Accreditation rules which guide the process the Department uses to recognize accrediting agencies, the independent private non-profit and state entities responsible for overseeing the quality of education provided by institutions and programs. Through its proposals, the Department seeks to implement a system of risk-based review, increase the rigor of accreditation, and support accreditation as a critical pillar of the program integrity triad.
  • State Authorization rules which govern the requirements for an institution to be considered legally authorized by the state in which it operates, a requirement for Title IV eligibility. Proposals and questions for discussion seek to address the requirements for state approval and licensure, as well as state authorization reciprocity agreements, to ensure adequate oversight of institutions.
  • Distance Education rules which govern the offering of distance education. Proposals under consideration would enable the Department to get better data and compare outcomes for students enrolled online, and to better protect students in the event of college closures. Proposals also seek to strengthen the Department’s ability to oversee distance education programs overall.
  • TRIO rules which govern eligibility of the Federal TRIO programs that provide services to individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. The proposal would expand participations to more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The committee will be comprised of non-federal negotiators from 15 constituency groups. A subcommittee focused on TRIO programs will meet on January 12 and include five impacted constituency groups. Through the negotiated rulemaking process, the Department will hear input on the proposals and discussion topics put forward from the non-federal negotiators and hear from members of the public at the end of each day. Through this process, the Department will continue to refine and develop its proposals for consideration. The committee will meet again in February and March, and the subcommittee will meet again in February.

The Department is also releasing a list of the individuals who will serve on the negotiating committee and subcommittee, which can be found here. Additional information and updates on the rulemaking process will be posted here. Members of the public who wish to register to view the sessions or provide public testimony can find that information beneath the Program Integrity and Institutional Quality and TRIO Subcommittee headings by clicking on Session 1: January 8 - 11, 2024 and then Materials.

Today’s announcement builds on the Biden-Harris Administration’s ambitious efforts to protect students and taxpayers, hold colleges accountable, and ensure that all students can afford to get the education and skills they need after high school. The issue papers and committee meetings are part of a process known as “negotiated rulemaking,” which is required under the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, for any regulations related to the Federal student financial aid programs.