Biden Administration to Update Higher Education Regulations, Including Accreditation and Distance Education

The U.S. Education Department announces plans to negotiate updates to federal higher education regulations, potentially shaping the future of accreditation, state authorization, and the definition of distance education.

The Biden administration is making strides towards its goal of updating and improving federal higher education policy. The U.S. Education Department recently announced plans to negotiate changes to the regulations governing accreditation, state authorization, and the definition of distance education. These negotiations, set to take place in spring 2024, could be the administration’s last opportunity to make significant changes to federal higher education policy before the 2024 presidential election. While any regulatory updates resulting from these negotiations would not take effect until 2025, experts and advocates see this as a crucial opportunity to enhance the higher education system and provide greater consumer protections for students.

Addressing Program Integrity and Institutional Quality

The U.S. Education Department has outlined a list of issues subject to negotiation that will focus on program integrity and institutional quality under the Higher Education Act. These issues include the education secretary’s recognition of accrediting agencies, institutional eligibility, the definition of distance education for clock-hour programs, reporting for online enrollment, the return of Title IV funds, and cash management for student fund disbursement.

Potential Changes and Considerations

While the specific changes the department is considering have not been disclosed, experts and advocates have offered suggestions for potential updates. These include standardizing the definition of distance education, tightening rules for accrediting agencies, and requiring colleges to adhere to state consumer protection laws, even if they are part of a multistate reciprocity agreement. The department had also initially planned to amend the rules governing third-party servicers, but this issue was not included in the final list. However, the department intends to issue updated guidance on third-party servicers early next year.

The Negotiated Rule Making Process

The announcement marks the next step in the negotiated rule-making process, which the Education Department uses to make policy in certain areas. The department previously outlined its agenda for this round of rule making and held a hearing in April to gather input on additional topics or issues to consider. The negotiations were delayed as the department focused on another rule-making process related to debt relief. However, the department is now moving forward with the negotiated rule-making process, with the first committee meeting scheduled for January 8-11, 2024.

Subcommittee for Federal TRIO Programs

In addition to the main negotiating committee, the Education Department is convening a subcommittee to examine participant eligibility requirements for federal TRIO programs. These programs aim to support underserved student groups in accessing and completing college. The subcommittee will specifically explore the requirement that TRIO participants must be U.S. citizens, a requirement that advocates have pushed to change. The department’s decision to form a subcommittee indicates a willingness to consider these calls for change.


The Biden administration’s plans to update federal higher education regulations through negotiated rule making present a significant opportunity to shape the future of accreditation, state authorization, and the definition of distance education. By addressing program integrity and institutional quality, the administration aims to improve the higher education system and ensure that students are well served by the institutions they attend. As the negotiations unfold, stakeholders will closely watch for updates and potential changes that could enhance the educational experience for students and provide greater consumer protections.






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