New Accreditation Handbook focuses on accountability while adding clarity to the process

WASHINGTON- As part of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ efforts to rethink higher education, the U.S. Department of Education today released a revised Accreditation Handbook for use by accrediting agencies seeking recognition by the Department.

Compared to the previous 88-page document issued in 2012, the new, streamlined 28-page handbook provides clearer, more concise requirements for accrediting agencies so they know what kind of and how much evidence they should submit to meet compliance requirements. 

“Too much of the accreditation process has become about paperwork and not people. The current process for recognizing accreditors generates accreditor applications that are tens of thousands of pages long, but it does little to improve the quality of education for students,” said Secretary DeVos.  “Reducing unnecessary and burdensome bureaucracy in this area refocuses accreditor’s time and energy on what matters most – the student experience. Putting every student’s needs first in everything we do is the very core of our ‘Rethink’ agenda.” 

These changes respond to the President’s Executive Order 13777, Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda, as well as the bipartisan Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education. It also builds on recent recommendations from the Department’s Office of Inspector General, which the Department endorsed, that highlighted the need for greater clarity and clearer processes for all parties to follow.

“As we seek public comment on our Accreditation Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, we have also taken a hard look at the way in which we implement our current regulations in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the process,” Secretary DeVos added. Among other improvements, the new handbook adds a site visit by Department staff to the accreditor to allow for review of accreditor files and documents, and to obtain a more complete understanding of the accreditor’s processes and past actions. It also provides applicants with clear direction as to which documents to submit to the Department as part of their application.

Today’s update to the handbook is the latest in a series of periodic revisions to help accreditors navigate accreditation regulations. The streamlined document is based on the current accreditation rules, and its use will be voluntary for agencies over the next year. The Department will publish a subsequent revision of the handbook after the publication of new accreditation regulations this fall.