July 20, 2022
The U.S. Department of Education released guidance Tuesday that could make it harder for colleges to switch accreditors — potentially setting up a clash with a new Florida law requiring the state’s public colleges to change accrediting agencies every accreditation cycle.
The guidance requires colleges to obtain the agency’s approval before they attempt to switch accreditors or else risk losing access to federal financial aid. The Ed Department will weigh several factors to ensure colleges aren’t attempting to evade oversight by changing agencies. That includes assessing whether an institution is at risk of being sanctioned by its current accreditor.
Essentially, the Ed Department must be convinced that colleges are changing accreditors to improve their quality, Cynthia Jackson-Hammond, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, said in an email.
“This is an additional requirement for institutions, making the process of potentially changing accreditors very time intensive,” Jackson-Hammond said.
In a blog post announcing the guidance, the Ed Department cited the Florida law. Lawmakers there passed the accreditation law earlier this year, prompting the Ed Department to warn state officials that the policy could endanger colleges’ access to federal financial aid.
Jackson-Hammond has previously argued the Florida law will place a large burden on colleges, which will have to hire additional staff to meet the requirements of one accreditor while simultaneously applying for another. Students may have to pick up the tab, she wrote in a March letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican. Preview (opens in a new tab)
“The impact here — where Florida is requiring that institutions change accreditors every five years — is uncertain,” Jackson-Hammond said Wednesday.