Biden-Harris Administration to Enhance Institutional Quality and Program Integrity through Rulemaking

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

The issue papers propose measures to ensure that accrediting agencies and state authorizing agencies, along with the federal government, are effectively holding institutions accountable for providing high-quality educational opportunities. These proposals also aim to establish more student-friendly policies to ensure that students have access to their aid for covering college costs and are treated fairly across aid programs. Additionally, the proposals include expanding the eligibility for TRIO programs to better assist disadvantaged student populations.

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

The first meeting of the Institutional Quality and Program Integrity Committee will discuss the following topics:

  • Cash Management rules that govern the procedures for issuing and managing Title IV aid. The proposals aim to create more student-friendly policies to ensure that students receive their entitled aid.
  • Return of Title IV Funds rules that outline the process institutions must follow when a student discontinues attendance during a payment period or enrollment. The proposals intend to prevent immediate due balances, streamline the process for institutions, and simplify it.
  • Accreditation rules that guide the Department in recognizing accrediting agencies, which are independent private non-profit and state entities responsible for ensuring the quality of education provided by institutions and programs. The Department aims to implement a risk-based review system, increase the rigor of accreditation, and support accreditation as a critical pillar of the program integrity triad.
  • State Authorization rules that govern the requirements for an institution to be legally authorized by the state in which it operates, a requirement for Title IV eligibility. The proposals and discussion points 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 that regulate the offering of distance education courses. The proposals under consideration would enable the Department to obtain better data and compare outcomes for online students, as well as provide better protection for students in the event of college closures. The proposals also aim to strengthen the Department’s oversight of distance education programs as a whole.
  • TRIO rules that determine the eligibility of Federal TRIO programs, which provide services to individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. The proposal seeks to expand participation to more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The committee will consist of non-federal negotiators from 15 constituency groups. A subcommittee dedicated to TRIO programs will convene on January 12 and include five impacted constituency groups. Through the negotiated rulemaking process, the Department will gather input from non-federal negotiators and hear from the public at the end of each day regarding the proposals and discussion topics. The Department will refine and develop its proposals for consideration during this process. The committee will meet again in February and March, while the subcommittee will meet again in February.

The Department is also publishing a list of 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 the relevant information under 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 further strengthens the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to safeguard students and taxpayers, hold colleges accountable, and ensure that every student can afford post-secondary education and acquire the necessary skills. The issue papers and committee meetings are part of the “negotiated rulemaking” process mandated by the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, for any regulations concerning Federal student financial aid programs.