February 4, 2122
Florida’s public colleges would be required to change accreditors and then do so again every five years under a new bill introduced in the state’s House of Representatives.
The proposal follows the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which accredits public institutions in the state, inquiring into potential state political influence at the University of Florida and Florida State University.
Policy experts argue the bill’s terms would be difficult to achieve, as accrediting agencies come in limited numbers, and getting their approval is time intensive.
Accreditors ensure the health of academic programming, finances, free inquiry and other components of college campuses. They are also the gatekeepers of federal Title IV student aid funding, but they must be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or an association, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Seven regional accreditors exist that previously could only approve institutions within a certain geographical range. This changed during the Trump administration, which in 2019 issued a new regulation eliminating those boundaries. The Education Department also loosened accreditors’ compliance standards, spurring criticism that it weakened the accreditation system.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, or SACSCOC, has twice recently investigated whether partisan pressures are affecting Florida colleges’ operations.
It raised concerns in May, when Richard Corcoran, the state’s education commissioner, was applying for the Florida State presidency. Corcoran sits on the governing board that approves presidential candidates, which SACSCOC said presented a conflict of interest and clashed with its standards.
More recently, in November, SACSCOC notified U of Florida that it would examine whether political influence affected the university’s decision to initially not allow three professors to testify in a lawsuit against the state’s new restrictive voting rights law.