One of the most important decisions that students make about their futures is where to enroll in college. And higher education remains one of the best investments that you can make in yourself, as you pursue your passions, launch a career, and strive for fulfilling, thriving lives.
Accreditation is important to consider as you choose a college, because it signals whether a school offers a quality education. For the U.S. Department of Education, it’s more than just a signal; it’s a requirement for any college or university to receive accreditation from an agency recognized by the Department before its students can use federal financial aid (like Pell Grants and federal student loans) at the school.
Unfortunately, too many schools have maintained their accreditation status in recent years even if they have misled or defrauded students, provided students with a poor education, or closed suddenly and without appropriate supports for students. This situation is unacceptable. It’s why the Department of Education has worked over the last eight years to strengthen America’s higher education accreditation system.
As part of our regular process for reviewing accreditors, earlier this year, staff at the Department recommended that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) should no longer receive recognition from the Department as an agency that can provide schools with that “seal of approval” tied to receiving federal aid. An independent advisory body called NACIQI agreed, and a Senior Department Official issued a decision withdrawing recognition.
Today, Secretary John B. King Jr. officially decided to cease federal recognition of ACICS as an accrediting agency.
Over the past two weeks, since the closure of ITT Educational Services, Inc. (ITT), we’ve received thousands of emails and calls from its former students trying to find their way forward. Some are looking for a pathway to degree completion by transferring to another institution. Others are applying for federal student loan discharge to wipe away their loans. Yet there are others who are so deeply frustrated, discouraged and angry at ITT’s closure that they’re considering abandoning their education. A college education is still the best investment a person can make in oneself and the surest path to the middle class. While ITT’s closure may be a disruption, we cannot allow it to be the end of the road for these students.
We’ve been working around the clock to support ITT students, and partners around the nation have stepped up to do the same.
emailed all 35,000 of ITT’s enrolled students restating their options.
launched an online hub with helpful information about the ITT transition, including FAQs and information about closed school loan discharge. The FAQ is continuously updated so that it has the most up to date information.
hosted 11 ITT-specific webinars, which is an easy, accessible way for students to learn more about their transition options, and published an up-to-date schedule of future webinars. Colleagues from Veterans Affairs joined us in the webinars to provide information to GI Bill beneficiaries affected by ITT’s closure. We have five more webinars scheduled.
used social media to remind impacted students of these resources and remind them that they never have to pay for services the Department offers for free.
The following week we continued direct outreach and emails. Through these efforts, the Department has had almost 20,000 interactions with impacted individuals through our webinars, call centers, and dedicated email account. While it’s up to each student to decide the path best for them, we are doing everything we can to ensure they are well-informed about their options and opportunities.
Counseling Students on Transfer
A number of our partners outside the government that focus on college readiness and counseling are interested in helping students make informed choices about how to move forward with their education. We’ve asked for their help with students as they explore comparable programs of study. To assist students with continuing their education at other institutions, a number of groups have committed to sharing resources with them, including:
National Association of College Admissions Counseling,
National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators,
National College Access Network,
Veterans Education Success.
We are grateful to these organizations for stepping up to support ITT students, and we hope to see others around the country do the same. Organizations interested in pitching in can visit ifap.ed.gov/SupportITTStudents, our resource page for partners, and they can email supportITTstudents@ed.gov with any questions or to share examples of what they are doing.
Improving the School Transfer Process
The day ITT closed, I wrote to hundreds of college presidents in areas where ITT students are most concentrated to encourage them reach out to students directly, and to be open to accepting transfer credits. Many were interested in supporting students’ work towards degree completion. Our direct outreach to institutions coupled with that to related independent groups, such as the American Association of Community Colleges and federally recognized accreditors, has resulted in a number of positive efforts to inform students’ transition:
Many accreditors have proactively informed their accredited institutions of their flexibility in assessing credits for transfer, administering prior learning assessment, and waiving maximum transfer-in credit requirements to ensure colleges know about the ways they can support ITT students who want to continue their education.
Community colleges in Houston, Texas are accepting ITT students on a “staging process” until their official transcript is available to allow students to begin classes right away instead of waiting for administrative processes to catch up with them.
A number of colleges, such as those in Dearborn, Michigan, have proactively created webpages and reached out to students, providing enrollment opportunities and information on credit transfers.
Many colleges, such as the Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon, are hosting transfer fairs, in collaboration with Federal Student Aid, where students can get answers to their questions.
Many institutions around the country are opening their doors to former ITT students and are making good-faith efforts to help them identify programs that match their interests and will allow them to continue their educational pursuits.
Employing a Multi-Agency Approach to Sharing Information
We are fortunate to have strong partners in other parts of the Obama Administration. The Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have all conducted outreach to students to help them navigate their next steps. And the Department of Labor will provide information to its network of nearly 2,500 American Job Centers (AJCs) about options available to former students from recent school closings. Additionally, employees displaced by school closings can access reemployment assistance services at their local AJC.
Even though my father was a guidance counselor, choosing a college was still an overwhelming process. There were few independent reviews of colleges and no real way of knowing if the information I found was accurate. Unearthing lesser known, high quality colleges outside of my region was tough. It was even tougher to figure out if a college’s students found jobs after graduating or even graduated at all. In short, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
The College Scorecard, called for by President Obama, solves this challenge by giving everyone – students, families, guidance counselors and non-profits – access to a whole host of data verified by the U.S. Department of Education on thousands of institutions across the nation in an easy-to-use online tool. College is still the best investment a person can make in them self—bachelor’s degree-holders earn roughly $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates. The College Scorecard makes choosing between thousands of institutions easier by providing simple to understand information on institutions’ incoming students and the graduating students’ outcomes. Along with 1.5 million other folks, I’m using the Scorecard as I help my daughter in her college search.
In recent years, ITT Educational Services, Inc. (ITT) has increasingly been the subject of state and federal investigations and this year it has twice been found out of compliance with its accreditor’s standards. Over time, ITT’s decisions have put its students and millions of dollars in taxpayer funded federal student aid at risk. In response, over the last couple of years, we at the Department of Education have increased our financial oversight over ITT and required the school to boost its cash reserves to cover potential damages to taxpayers and students.
For Sarah, streamlining student loan repayment for easy access to affordable repayment plans is critical. Sarah teaches second grade in Minnesota, and works to ensure that all her students have hope for their futures and “know that the possibilities are endless for them.” After paying her monthly loan balance, she lives paycheck-to-paycheck. Public service loan forgiveness options are available to help make debt more manageable and affordable, but many teachers like Sarah struggle to learn about whether or not they qualify. The Obama Administration knows that families across the country are working hard to pay off their loans. This Administration wants to ensure that students do not have to choose between a job that serves their communities and paying their debt, and that borrowers like Sarah do not struggle to navigate student loan repayment. That’s why the US Department of Education is taking steps to reinvent customer service for federal student loan borrowers to ensure that every borrower has the right to an affordable repayment plan like Pay As You Earn (PAYE), quality customer service, reliable information, and fair treatment as they repay their loans – objectives the President put forward in his Student Aid Bill of Rights.
As I wrote back in February, accreditation plays a critical role in protecting students and taxpayers. Students and families trust that approval from an accrediting agency means that a school or program prepares its graduates for work and life. The federal government also relies on accreditation to affirm that the education provided by that institution or program is a worthy investment of taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen far too many schools maintain their institutional accreditation even while defrauding and misleading students, providing poor quality education, or closing without recourse for students. This is inexcusable. Accreditation can and must be the mark of quality that the public expects.
That’s why the Department has been working to strengthen the accreditation system. We have published information about accreditors’ standards and the student outcomes at the institutions and programs they have approved. We are taking steps to increase transparency around accreditors’ reviews of institutions and resulting actions. We will soon publish guidance to encourage accreditors to use the flexibility they have in order to target their resources to problematic and poorly performing institutions and programs. And we are increasing our focus on outcomes in our own process of recognizing accreditors.
I’ve seen online ads claiming that “Obama Wants to Forgive Your Student Loans!” or “Erase Default Statuses in 4–6 Weeks!” The link takes you to companies that want to help you manage your loans — for a fee. You never need to pay for help with your student loans. For the great price of free, the U.S. Department of Education can help you:
Your loan servicer — the company that collects your payments on behalf of the Department of Education can also help you with these goals for free. If you need help with your debt, you should contact your servicer. Click here for a list of servicers’ contact information.
And you should — because you never need to pay for these services.
Some debt relief companies charge a lot. Our research shows that some companies charge upfront consolidation fees as high as $999 or 1 percent of the loan balance (whichever is higher); “enrollment” or “subscription” fees up to $600; or monthly account “maintenance” fees as high as $50 per month. That’s money out of your pocket for services that are available to you for free.
Unfortunately, some companies act unethically or illegally to get your business — misrepresenting themselves as having a relationship with the Department of Education by using our logos, violating students’ privacy by inappropriately using their FSA IDs, and claiming that government programs are their own. In fact, yesterday, the Department sent two of these companies cease and desist letters because they have inappropriately used our logo, giving the impression that they are working with or for the government.
We are taking action to crackdown on these companies and continuing our efforts to protect student borrowers.
Throughout the Obama Administration we’ve worked to ensure student borrowers are protected and have worked across agencies in doing so. For example, the Department of Education has convened an interagency Joint Task Force on the Oversight and Accountability of For-Profit Institutions. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have been active in looking at possible deceptive practices in the debt-relief business.
The extent of the problem with debt relief companies is demonstrated by numerous legal actions around the country. In January of 2014, the New York Student Protection Unit issued subpoenas to 13 student debt relief companies as part of an investigation into concerns about potentially misleading advertising, improper fees, and other consumer protection problems in that industry. Over the past two years, the Florida, Illinois and Minnesota Attorneys General all took separate actions against firms found to have misled borrowers. A number of states and our enforcement partners are stepping up to help protect borrowers, but the first line of defense is making sure you know your rights.
We’re making it easier to distinguish between Department sites and private companies’ pages to make sure students and families aren’t mistakenly lured into paying for services available for free. For instance, last year we reached a settlement with a company to obtain a web address it was using — FAFSA.com — to market its for-profit service charging students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This settlement reduced confusion among students and parents who may have thought they were using a federal website rather than a commercial one. We also trademarked many of our forms’ names and taglines.
We are strengthening our internal systems to ensure continued protection of students’ information. For instance, under the new FSA ID, there is a delay for borrowers trying to recover their password to ensure that third-party companies are not inappropriately accessing peoples’ accounts.
Always remember: Keep your FSA ID private and think twice before signing on to pay for a service you can get for free. Sharing your FSA ID puts you at risk.
If you think that you’ve been scammed then learn your options. Many state governments have an Office of Consumer Affairs or Consumer Protection either within or affiliated with, the Office of the state’s Attorney General. At the federal level, the FTC and the CFPB have the authority to act against companies that engage in deceptive or unfair practices. Click on the links to file your complaint with either of those agencies; or you can call the CFPB at 1–855–411–2372.
Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.
Protecting students and borrowers has been central to President Obama’s higher education agenda and initiatives since day one. From holding career training programs accountable, ensuring they provide valuable education without drowning students in debt, to ending huge subsidies to banks and reinvesting that money for students, especially the neediest students who rely on Pell Grants — this Administration has made student, borrower, and taxpayer protection a top priority. Today we are announcing the publication of two sets of final regulations that build on these efforts to provide important new protections for students and taxpayers’ investment in higher education.
Over the past several years, partnerships between banks and colleges have led schools to market debit and prepaid cards to students, often giving students the impression that their school is endorsing that financial product. Students are likely to trust this endorsement, making them a particularly vulnerable population. These cards are marketed as a way for students to receive their Federal student aid meant to pay for books, rent, and other necessities. Government reports and investigations by consumer groups found that in some cases, students were either strongly urged or given no choice but to sign up for these accounts as a way to receive their financial aid.
The problem with some of these school-bank partnerships is that students who want to use the bank accounts they had before arriving on campus may be forced to take extra steps and experience delays to have the aid disbursed. In some cases, students were required to mail or fax in paper forms or to wait weeks for their refunds. But the bigger problem is that many of these school-endorsed accounts include fees that aren’t clearly disclosed to the student — like overdraft fees or fees for every debit purchase using a PIN — or schools only make funds accessible through a single fee-free ATM meant to serve thousands of students. These fees can add up and be burdensome, especially for college students trying to make ends meet.
It is critically important to ensure that students can choose freely how to receive their federal student aid refunds. Students need objective, neutral information about their account options; and they should be able to choose to receive deposits to their own bank accounts, rather than being forced to sign up for campus cards with unreasonable fees and obscure account terms. The new regulations ensure that these goals will be met, and students will have the protections they are entitled to.
The final regulations we’re announcing today will protect students against onerous fees, require schools to provide students with the ability to easily access their aid for free, and require schools to disclose the terms of their partnerships with financial institutions.
Today also marks another important milestone in an effort called for by the President in June 2014 to allow five million more student borrowers in the Direct Loan program to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their monthly income without regard to when they borrowed their loans. The final rule establishes a new income-driven repayment plan — called the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Repayment Plan. In addition to the monthly payment cap, REPAYE will forgive remaining debt after twenty years for those who only borrowed for undergraduate study and twenty-five years for those who borrowed for graduate study. The REPAYE plan will also provide a new interest subsidy benefit to prevent ballooning loan balances for those whose income-driven payments cannot keep up with accruing interest.
The new repayment plan will be available to borrowers starting in December of this year.
Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.
I am therefore pleased to announce that ED is now inviting applications for the Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) experiment. As part of ED’s experimental sites authority under HEA, EQUIP will accelerate and evaluate innovation through partnerships between colleges and universities and non-traditional providers of education, such as intensive “boot camps” building skills in particular fields, specific programs awarding certificates aligned to employer needs, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Eligible programs will lead to a degree or certificate, build students’ transferable academic credits, and provide students with the ever-changing skills they need for today’s economy. The experimental sites authority allows the Secretary to waive certain provisions regarding federal financial aid in order to improve the results achieved with federal student aid dollars.
A critical component of this program will be to increase transparency and generate data regarding the quality of these programs. Participation will require a partnership among a postsecondary institution, one or more non-traditional providers, and a quality assurance entity that will make student outcomes transparent in areas such as learning and employment, and provide tools for ongoing quality improvement. The Department has already begun a conversation about innovation and quality in higher education, through which we have received significant input reaffirming the need for this effort and providing guidance from institutions, providers, student advocates, and other in the field about the best ways to move forward.
We encourage interested colleges and universities, non-traditional providers of education, and potential quality assurance entities to find details about the program in this Federal Register notice. To share your thoughts or to be notified of updates, please email us at email@example.com.
Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.
The Obama Administration has worked steadily to increase access to and completion of high quality degrees for students of all ages and backgrounds. One specific thrust has been to remove barriers that stand in the way of innovation in higher education, including those that prevent promising new educational models from expanding. Competency based education (CBE) is one example of a promising new delivery model with the potential to improve degree completion, reduce costs to students and improve transparency and alignment of learning outcomes to the needs of employers and society. And the field is growing – recently, a survey suggested that as many as 600 postsecondary institutions in the United States are currently designing or implementing CBE programs.
In 2014, the Department of Education launched three experiments under the Experimental Sites Initiative – Competency-Based Education, Limited Direct Assessment, and Prior Learning Assessment – as an opportunity to learn more about this and related delivery model and to experiment with Title IV disbursement models designed to incent student achievement and student success. Among those, the Competency-Based Education experiment provided the most expansive regulatory waivers and modifications, and in the time since that experiment was announced, it has become clear that additional detail and guidance from the Department of Education regarding that experiment would be helpful to both institutions and accrediting agencies.
I am delighted to say that we are ready to release the CBE Experiment Reference Guide for institutions participating in the CBE experiment. We believe that this Guide will offer tremendous support for both experienced and new CBE providers as they implement this experiment. We recognize that many of you were anticipating that the Guide would be released earlier this summer, but it was very important for us to have a high level of confidence that the guidance it contains is on very firm ground. The Guide can be located at https://experimentalsites.ed.gov/exp/guidance.html.
Additionally, by the end of this year, we will be issuing an expansion of the current CBE experiment. The CBE experiment was designed to offer institutions a new approach to financial aid disbursement in the hopes of incentivizing student success and cost reduction. Following the release of the 2014 Federal Register notice, we received additional feedback from institutions about the approach provided in the 2014 notice, and we have been working to respond to this feedback. When the expansion is released, we are confident that this experiment will be even more useful to the field, particularly to institutions using a subscription-based tuition model with their CBE programs. As part of the experimental site initiative, ED will be gathering significant data from the participating institutions to enable a rigorous evaluation of the impact of CBE programs on issues of completion, affordability and transparency of degrees.
As always, I encourage and welcome your comments, suggestions and feedback. We are eager to learn from these CBE experiments, and we remain committed to responsible innovation to enhance learning outcomes, lower cost and improve completion rates in higher education.
Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.
As I have written previously, much is changing in higher education. Student demographics have shifted significantly, as have the demands of a fast-evolving workforce. Technology, powerful insights from brain science, and research on teaching and learning are creating vast new possibilities.
In order to build our economy and our democracy, we must invest in the kinds of evidence-based innovations that expand access, affordability, and success to communities that are not currently well served, such as students who would be the first in their families to go to college, those from low-income families, and students of color.
This is exactly what our First in the World (FITW) grant program seeks to do.
This year’s highly competitive applicant pool demonstrated the innovation and creativity flourishing at all kinds of institutions. Grants will fund projects with a range of goals and approaches, including proactive advising and support services guided by predictive analytics, redesign of online gateway courses to increase student engagement, integration of adaptive learning software into a short-term bridge program, and open source developmental courses delivered through mobile learning apps. Read a few examples of these terrific projects and a list of all of this year’s recipients.
I’m especially pleased that nine of the 17 winning applications came from minority serving institutions (MSIs), three of which are also Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). These MSIs and HBCUs will receive a total of over $30 million in funding. I was also pleased to see proposals from strong and broad collaborations: we simply cannot achieve the impact we need with every campus acting alone.
I only wish we were able to fund many more of the high quality applications we received. And in fact, while the President’s FY2016 budget requested $200 million for FITW, Congressional budget proposals have zeroed out the program. Without a change to those budget proposals, we will not be able fund these critical innovations going forward.
Congratulations to the recipients of this year’s grants, and our deepest thanks to them and to all the FITW applicants for their leadership and their commitment to the success of all our nation’s students.
Most fundamentally, students themselves are changing. After long decades of exclusion, college access has expanded opportunities for minority students, first-generation students, and low-income students. In 2015, students are more likely to attend community college than any other postsecondary option, and more likely to be older, living away from campus, and may be attending part-time while balancing work and family.
The iconic picture of an 18-year-old high school graduate walking across a leafy campus toward her dorm room no longer reflects the reality of today’s college student.
Institutions of higher education are responding to these changes, in part by making course delivery more flexible. Technology has made this even more possible, introducing teaching and learning that is less constrained by time and place. Technology is also making new kinds of embedded assessment and adaptive curriculum possible, allowing instructors and students to discern with greater accuracy a student’s mastery of material or skills.
The demand for higher education is increasing, well beyond the capacity of traditional institutions. It’s easy to see why. As President Obama has said, the time when a high school diploma could lead to a good middle class job is gone. In today’s economy and tomorrow’s, some kind of postsecondary degree or credential is essential. That’s why we are committed to policies that increase access to high-quality programs, to keeping those programs affordable for all, and to ensuring quality outcomes for students.
Outside of the traditional colleges and universities, a vibrant marketplace for learning is emerging, whether through stand-alone MOOCS, “boot camps” that focus on training students for particular skills like computer coding, online skills courses, and institutional experimentation with competency-based programs and degrees. We applaud this wave of innovation and believe that the innovators are leading the way to a system of higher education that is more open, often less costly, more customizable to the needs of students, and more transparent in terms of its outcomes.
Many of the programs now offered outside of traditional higher education are of high quality and many earn learners access to new knowledge, new skills, and new opportunities. Some, however, are not. That’s not the problem, though. The problem is that we have few tools to differentiate the high-quality programs from the poor-quality ones. The normal mechanism we use to assess quality in higher education, accreditation, was not built to assess these kinds of providers. Moreover, even if they were, even the best programs and those serving low-income students would not, under current rules, be certified to receive federal financial aid because they are “programs” or “courses,” and not “institutions.”
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is interested in accelerating and focusing the ongoing conversations about what quality assurance might look like in the era of rapidly expanding educational options that are not traditional institutions of higher education. We are particularly interested in thinking about quality assurance through the lens of measurable student outcomes and competencies. We have no stake in supporting one or another specific set of learning outcomes. Rather, we are interested in the fact that outcomes matter and ought to be the centerpiece of any kind of quality assurance. Outcomes, in this vision of the future, are clear claims for student learning, move beyond mere statements of knowledge to what students can do with that knowledge, and are measurable.
Join a Conversation
Over the coming weeks and months, we seek to engage broadly with the field to help deepen our understanding of how to recognize high-quality non-traditional programs. We think that a new set of quality assurance questions will need to be developed to ask hard, important questions about student learning and outcomes. These questions will help students, taxpayers, and those evaluating educational programs separate programs that are high-quality from those that do not meet the bar. Such a quality assurance process will rely much less on inputs, where the emphasis of much accreditation still rests, and will instead focus on outputs and evidence.
Based on some preliminary input we have received, we have identified several general categories in which questions should be asked:
Claims: What are the measurable claims that a provider is making about student learning? Do those individual claims combine into a coherent program of study? Are they relevant and do they have value; how do we know?
Assessments: How is it clear that the student has achieved the learning outcomes? Are the assessments reliable and valid? Do the assessments measure what students can do with what they have learned?
Outcomes: What outcomes do program completers achieve, both in terms of academic transfer or employment and salary, where relevant? What are other outcomes we should ask about?
These quality assurance questions are designed to focus on student learning and other critical outcomes at a much more granular level. We welcome feedback and sustained dialogue on how to foster and improve quality assurance, particularly in this moment of tremendous innovation and change. We seek to convene, participate in, and hear the results of many conversations with diverse stakeholders. To join those conversations, please fill out the form below, or send us your thoughts, questions, and ideas for engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org.