[STATEMENT] Public Comment on Quality and Innovation at U.S. Department of Education Hearing

Bipartisan advocacy group urges the Department of Education to offer regulatory changes “through the lens of putting student outcomes first”


WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 6, 2018) — Emily Bouck, Policy and Advocacy Director at Higher Learning Advocates, testified at a hearing held by the U.S. Department of Education today as it considers a negotiated rulemaking process that could affect a wide range of higher education regulations. Higher Learning Advocates urged the Department to limit the number and breadth of topics considered so that rulemaking can focus on student outcomes and to consider, at a minimum, a separate negotiated rulemaking panel on accreditation issues and a panel to discuss the types of educational programs eligible for federal student aid, including competency-based education. 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Department’s intent to establish negotiated rulemaking.

My name is Emily Bouck, and I am the Policy and Advocacy Director at Higher Learning Advocates – a nonprofit advocacy organization working toward bipartisan federal policies to better serve today’s students.

Today’s students are more likely to be returning students, part-time, parents, working adults, or veterans. They access postsecondary education online and in the classroom, they study throughout the full calendar year, and they weave together skills and competencies gathered not only from their educational experience but also from their work and life experience. We urge the Department to keep today’s students at the center of any regulatory conversations.

Higher Learning Advocates is a proponent of smart regulations that fit together to improve student outcomes. We believe any negotiated rulemaking should consider how our array of federal regulations drive better student outcomes – or don’t.

The sheer number of topics proposed by the Department in their notice is far too many topics to be considered by a single negotiated rulemaking panel. Even with the intent to hold two subcommittees, the diversity and complexity of these topics could only be earnestly debated through multiple panels, not one. We urge the Department to limit the number and breadth of topics considered at this time to ensure negotiators have the expertise to debate these issues and increase the likelihood of consensus aimed at improving student outcomes.

We ask the Department to, at a minimum, consider two separate negotiated rulemaking panels: one for accreditation issues and a second for issues related to the types of educational programs that can be eligible for federal student aid, including competency-based education.

If the Department moves forward with a negotiated rulemaking effort on accreditation, it’s important to acknowledge that what existing federal policy asks of accreditors is too focused on inputs instead of outcomes. In any regulatory effort, this must be flipped, and student outcomes must be prioritized. We urge the Department to select negotiators and offer any changes through the lens of putting student outcomes first.

Further, such a panel must prioritize transparency and consistency in regulations governing accreditors and their actions in order to ensure students receive the same guarantee of quality no matter where they choose to go to school. Transparency and consistency do not need to consist of bright lines that exist regardless of institutional missions and student profiles; however, those challenges can no longer be barriers to implementing concrete measures to better convey how institutions serve their students.

In addition, we believe the Department should establish another separate panel if they wish to move forward in considering the types of educational programs that can be eligible for federal student aid. Related topics, such as competency-based education, direct assessment programs, regular and substantive interaction, and the credit hour, should also be considered in this panel.

The goal of such a panel should be to break down barriers for today’s students while ensuring all programs provide the highest level of quality. It would be detrimental to simply remove existing guardrails without replacing them with updated protections.

As we consider innovative delivery models and providers that meet today’s students where they learn and provide critical skills and credentials, we must also ensure the quality of programs and demand accountability for students and taxpayers.

The federal government spends 120 billion dollars annually in federal student aid, and it has the right and the responsibility to ensure students use their aid at high-quality programs. We urge the Department to keep this balance of quality and outcomes versus deregulation in mind as it moves forward with its efforts. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Higher Learning Advocates is a non-profit advocacy organization working to shift federal policy from higher education to higher learning—education and training beyond high school that leads to a degree, credential, or employment. While more students are participating in higher education than ever before, there is a vast and growing disconnect between federal policy and the needs of today’s students, employers, and communities. We are working toward federal policies that create transparent pathways to success, incentivize innovation, protect students and taxpayers, and improve outcomes.

CONTACT: Ted Eismeier, teismeier@higherlearningadvocates.org