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DeSantis Challenges Constitutionality of Accreditation

DeSantis Challenges Constitutionality of Accreditation

Inside Higher Ed

Katherine Knott
June 27, 2023
For 58 years, the accreditation system of higher education has stood, enshrined in federal law and reaffirmed with each reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
Now, a federal lawsuit from the state of Florida is looking to upend that entire system, which is a key part of the federal accountability system that helps to determine which colleges and universities receive access to federal financial aid.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and other state officials argue in the lawsuit filed last week that Congress has “ceded unchecked power” to the private accrediting agencies, violating the U.S. Constitution. They want a federal judge to permanently block the Education Department from enforcing accreditation-related provisions of the Higher Education Act. Currently, federal law requires that colleges and universities be accredited by an Education Department–recognized accreditor in order to receive federal student aid such as Pell Grants.
“The result is that private accrediting agencies enjoy near limitless power over state institutions,” Florida officials wrote in the initial complaint. “Accrediting agencies have the power to hold billions of federal education dollars hostage based on the formulation and application of substantive education standards that are immune from meaningful government supervision.”
The White House has promised to fight the lawsuit, calling it part of DeSantis’s culture wars. Others said the lawsuit showed a lack of understanding about accreditation and failed to provide an alternative vision of federal accountability.
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