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Accreditation in the United States

Subpart C - The Recognition Process

APPLICATION AND REVIEW BY DEPARTMENT STAFF

602.30 Activities covered by recognition procedures.
Recognition proceedings are administrative actions taken on any of the following matters:

(a) Applications for initial or continued recognition submitted under §602.31(a).

(b) Applications for an expansion of scope submitted under §602.31(b).

(c) Compliance reports submitted under §602.31(c).

(d) Reviews of agencies that have expanded their scope of recognition by notice, following receipt by the Department of information of an increase in headcount enrollment described in §602.19(e).

(e) Staff analyses identifying areas of non-compliance based on a review conducted under §602.33.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1099b)

602.31 Agency submissions to the Department

(a) Applications for recognition or renewal of recognition. An accrediting agency seeking initial or continued recognition must submit a written application to the Secretary. Each accrediting agency must submit an application for continued recognition at least once every five years, or within a shorter time period specified in the final recognition decision. The application must consist of--

(1) A statement of the agency’s requested scope of recognition;

(2) Evidence, including documentation, that the agency complies with the criteria for recognition listed in subpart B of this part and effectively applies those criteria; and

(3) Evidence, including documentation, of how an agency that includes or seeks to include distance education or correspondence education in its scope of recognition applies its standards in evaluating programs and institutions it accredits that offer distance education or correspondence education.

(b) Applications for expansions of scope. An agency seeking an expansion of scope by application must submit a written application to the Secretary. The application must--

(1) Specify the scope requested;

(2) Include documentation of experience in accordance with §602.12(b); and

(3) Provide copies of any relevant standards, policies, or procedures developed and applied by the agency and documentation of the application of these standards, policies, or procedures.

(c) Compliance reports. If an agency is required to submit a compliance report, it must do so within 30 days following the end of the period for achieving compliance as specified in the decision of the senior Department official or Secretary, as applicable.

(d) Review following an increase in headcount enrollment. If an agency that has notified the Secretary in writing of its change in scope to include distance education or correspondence education in accordance with §602.27(a)(5) reports an increase in headcount enrollment in accordance with §602.19(e) for an institution it accredits, or if the Department notifies the agency of such an increase at one of the agency’s accredited institutions, the agency must, within 45 days of reporting the increase or receiving notice of the increase from the Department, as applicable, submit a report explaining--

(1) How the agency evaluates the capacity of the institutions or programs it accredits to accommodate significant growth in enrollment and to maintain educational quality;

(2) The specific circumstances regarding the growth at the institution(s) or programs(s) that triggered the review and the results of any evaluation conducted by the agency; and

(3) Any other information that the agency deems appropriate to demonstrate the effective application of the criteria for recognition or that the Department may require.

(e) Consent to sharing of information. By submitting an application for recognition, the agency authorizes Department staff throughout the application process and during any period of recognition--

(1) To observe its site visits to one or more of the institutions or programs it accredits or preaccredits, on an announced or unannounced basis;

(2) To visit locations where agency activities such as training, review and evaluation panel meetings, and decision meetings take place, on an announced or unannounced basis;

(3) To obtain copies of all documents the staff deems necessary to complete its review of the agency; and

(4) To gain access to agency records, personnel, and facilities.

(f) Public availability of agency records obtained by the Department. (1) The Secretary’s processing and decision making on requests for public disclosure of agency materials reviewed under this part are governed by the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. §552; the Trade Secrets Act, 18 U.S.C. §1905; the Privacy Act of 1974, as amended, 5 U.S.C §552a; the Federal Advisory Committee Act, 5 U.S.C. Appdx. 1; and all other applicable laws. In recognition proceedings, agencies may--

(i) Redact information that would identify individuals or institutions that is not essential to the Department’s review of the agency;

(ii) Make a good faith effort to designate all business information within agency submissions that the agency believes would be exempt from disclosure under exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(4). A blanket designation of all information contained within a submission, or of a category of documents, as meeting this exemption will not be considered a good faith effort and will be disregarded;

(iii) Identify any other material the agency believes would be exempt from public disclosure under FOIA, the factual basis for the request, and any legal basis the agency has identified for withholding the document from disclosure; and

(iv) Ensure documents submitted are only those required for Department review or as requested by Department officials.

(2) The Secretary processes FOIA requests in accordance with 34 CFR part 5 and makes all documents provided to the Advisory Committee available to the public.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1099b)

602.32 Procedures for Department review of applications for recognition or for change in scope, compliance reports, and increases in enrollment.

(a) After receipt of an agency’s application for initial or continued recognition, or change in scope, or an agency’s compliance report, or an agency’s report submitted under §602.31(d), Department staff publishes a notice of the agency’s application or report in the Federal Register inviting the public to comment on the agency’s compliance with the criteria for recognition and establishing a deadline for receipt of public comment.

(b) The Department staff analyzes the agency’s application for initial or renewal of recognition, compliance report, or report submitted under §602.31(d) to determine whether the agency satisfies the criteria for recognition, taking into account all available relevant information concerning the compliance of the agency with those criteria and in the agency’s effectiveness in applying the criteria. The analysis of an application for recognition and, as appropriate, of a compliance report, or of a report required under §602.31(d), includes--

(1)Observations from site visit(s), on an announced or unannounced basis, to the agency or to a location where agency activities such as training, review and evaluation panel meetings, and decision meetings take place and to one or more of the institutions or programs it accredits or preaccredits;

(2) Review of the public comments and other third-party information the Department staff receives by the established deadline, and the agency’s responses to the third-party comments, as appropriate, as well as any other information Department staff assembles for purposes of evaluating the agency under this part; and

(3) Review of complaints or legal actions involving the agency.

(c) The Department staff analyzes the materials submitted in support of an application for expansion of scope to ensure that the agency has the requisite experience, policies that comply with subpart B of this part, capacity, and performance record to support the request.

(d) Department staff’s evaluation of an agency may also include a review of information directly related to institutions or programs accredited or preaccredited by the agency relative to their compliance with the agency’s standards, the effectiveness of the standards, and the agency’s application of those standards.

(e) If, at any point in its evaluation of an agency seeking initial recognition, Department staff determines that the agency fails to demonstrate compliance with the basic eligibility requirements in §§602.10 through 602.13, the staff--

(1) Returns the agency’s application and provides the agency with an explanation of the deficiencies that caused staff to take that action; and

(2) Recommends that the agency withdraw its application and reapply when the agency can demonstrate compliance.

(f) Except with respect to an application that has been returned or is withdrawn under paragraph (e) of this section, when Department staff completes its evaluation of the agency, the staff--

(1) Prepares a written draft analysis of the agency;

(2) Sends the draft analysis including any identified areas of non-compliance and a proposed recognition recommendation, and all supporting documentation, including all third-party comments the Department received by the established deadline, to the agency;

(3) Invites the agency to provide a written response to the draft analysis and proposed recognition recommendation and third-party comments, specifying a deadline that provides at least 30 days for the agency’s response;

(4) Reviews the response to the draft analysis the agency submits, if any, and prepares the written final analysis. The final analysis includes a recognition recommendation to the senior Department official, as the Department staff deems appropriate, including, but not limited to, a recommendation to approve, deny, limit, suspend, or terminate recognition, require the submission of a compliance report and continue recognition pending a final decision on compliance, approve or deny a request for expansion of scope, or revise or affirm the scope of the agency; and

(5) Provides to the agency, no later than seven days before the Advisory Committee meeting, the final staff analysis and any other available information provided to the Advisory Committee under §602.34(c).

(g) The agency may request that the Advisory Committee defer acting on an application at that Advisory Committee meeting if Department staff fails to provide the agency with the materials described, and within the timeframes provided, in paragraphs (f)(3) and (f)(5) of this section. If the Department staff’s failure to send the materials in accordance with the timeframe described in paragraph (f)(3) or (f)(5) of this section is due to the failure of the agency to submit reports to the Department, other information the Secretary requested, or its response to the draft analysis, by the deadline established by the Secretary, the agency forfeits its right to request a deferral of its application.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1099b)

602.33 Procedures for review of agencies during the period of recognition.

(a) Department staff may review the compliance of a recognized agency with the criteria for recognition at any time--

(1) At the request of the Advisory Committee; or

(2) Based on any information that, as determined by Department staff, appears credible and raises issues relevant to recognition.

(b) The review may include, but need not be limited to, any of the activities described in §602.32(b) and (d).

(c) If, in the course of the review, and after provision to the agency of the documentation concerning the inquiry and consultation with the agency, Department staff notes that one or more deficiencies may exist in the agency’s compliance with the criteria for recognition or in the agency’s effective application of those criteria, it--

(1) Prepares a written draft analysis of the agency’s compliance with the criteria of concern. The draft analysis reflects the results of the review, and includes a recommendation regarding what action to take with respect to recognition. Possible recommendations include, but are not limited to, a recommendation to limit, suspend, or terminate recognition, or require the submission of a compliance report and to continue recognition pending a final decision on compliance;

(2) Sends the draft analysis including any identified areas of non-compliance, and a proposed recognition recommendation, and all supporting documentation to the agency; and

(3) Invites the agency to provide a written response to the draft analysis and proposed recognition recommendation, specifying a deadline that provides at least 30 days for the agency’s response.

(d) If, after review of the agency’s response to the draft analysis, Department staff concludes that the agency has demonstrated compliance with the criteria for recognition, the staff notifies the agency in writing of the results of the review. If the review was requested by the Advisory Committee, staff also provides the Advisory Committee with the results of the review.

(e) If, after review of the agency’s response to the draft analysis, Department staff concludes that the agency has not demonstrated compliance, the staff--

(1) Notifies the agency that the draft analysis will be finalized for presentation to the Advisory Committee;

(2) Publishes a notice in the Federal Register including, if practicable, an invitation to the public to comment on the agency’s compliance with the criteria in question and establishing a deadline for receipt of public comment;

(3) Provides the agency with a copy of all public comments received and, if practicable, invites a written response from the agency;

(4) Finalizes the staff analysis as necessary to reflect its review of any agency response and any public comment received; and

(5) Provides to the agency, no later than seven days before the Advisory Committee meeting, the final staff analysis and a recognition recommendation and any other information provided to the Advisory Committee under §602.34(c).

(f) The Advisory Committee reviews the matter in accordance with §602.34.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1099b)

REVIEW BY THE NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON INSTITUTIONAL QUALITY AND INTEGRITY

602.34 Advisory Committee meetings

(a) Department staff submits a proposed schedule to the Chairperson of the Advisory Committee based on anticipated completion of staff analyses.

(b) The Chairperson of the Advisory Committee establishes an agenda for the next meeting and, in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, presents it to the Designated Federal Official for approval.

(c) Before the Advisory Committee meeting, Department staff provides the Advisory Committee with--

(1) The agency’s application for recognition or for expansion of scope, the agency’s compliance report, or the agency’s report submitted under §602.31(d), and supporting documentation;

(2) The final Department staff analysis of the agency developed in accordance with §602.32 or §602.33, and any supporting documentation;

(3) At the request of the agency, the agency’s response to the draft analysis;

(4) Any written third-party comments the Department received about the agency on or before the established deadline;

(5) Any agency response to third-party comments; and

(6) Any other information Department staff relied upon in developing its analysis.

(d) At least 30 days before the Advisory Committee meeting, the Department publishes a notice of the meeting in the Federal Register inviting interested parties, including those who submitted third-party comments concerning the agency’s compliance with the criteria for recognition, to make oral presentations before the Advisory Committee.

(e) The Advisory Committee considers the materials provided under paragraph (c) of this section in a public meeting and invites Department staff, the agency, and other interested parties to make oral presentations during the meeting. A transcript is made of all Advisory Committee meetings.

(f) The written motion adopted by the Advisory Committee regarding each agency’s recognition will be made available during the Advisory Committee meeting. The Department will provide each agency, upon request, with a copy of the motion on recognition at the meeting. Each agency that was reviewed will be sent an electronic copy of the motion relative to that agency as soon as practicable after the meeting.

(g) After each meeting of the Advisory Committee at which a review of agencies occurs, the Advisory Committee forwards to the senior Department official its recommendation with respect to each agency, which may include, but is not limited to, a recommendation to approve, deny, limit, suspend, or terminate recognition, to grant or deny a request for expansion of scope, to revise or affirm the scope of the agency, or to require the agency to submit a compliance report and to continue recognition pending a final decision on compliance.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1099b)

602.35 Responding to the Advisory Committee’s recommendation

(a) Within ten days following the Advisory Committee meeting, the agency and Department staff may submit written comments to the senior Department official on the Advisory Committee’s recommendation. The agency must simultaneously submit a copy of its written comments, if any, to Department staff. Department staff must simultaneously submit a copy of its written comments, if any, to the agency.

(b) Comments must be limited to--

(1) Any Advisory Committee recommendation that the agency or Department staff believes is not supported by the record;

(2) Any incomplete Advisory Committee recommendation based on the agency’s application; and

(3) The inclusion of any recommendation or draft proposed decision for the senior Department official’s consideration.

(c)(1) Neither the Department staff nor the agency may submit additional documentary evidence with its comments unless the Advisory Committee’s recognition recommendation proposes finding the agency noncompliant with, or ineffective in its application of, a criterion or criteria for recognition not identified in the final Department staff analysis provided to the Advisory Committee.

(2) Within ten days of receipt by the Department staff of an agency’s comments or new evidence, if applicable, or of receipt by the agency of the Department staff’s comments, Department staff, the agency, or both, as applicable, may submit a response to the senior Department official. Simultaneously with submission, the agency must provide a copy of any response to the Department staff. Simultaneously with submission, Department staff must provide a copy of any response to the agency.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1099b)

REVIEW AND DECISION BY THE SENIOR DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL

602.36 Senior Department official’s decision

(a) The senior Department official makes a decision regarding recognition of an agency based on the record compiled under §§602.32, 602.33, 602.34, and 602.35 including, as applicable, the following:

(1) The materials provided to the Advisory Committee under §602.34(c).

(2) The transcript of the Advisory Committee meeting.

(3) The recommendation of the Advisory Committee.

(4) Written comments and responses submitted under §602.35.

(5) New evidence submitted in accordance with §602.35(c)(1).

(6) A communication from the Secretary referring an issue to the senior Department official’s consideration under §602.37(e).

(b) In the event that statutory authority or appropriations for the Advisory Committee ends, or there are fewer duly appointed Advisory Committee members than needed to constitute a quorum, and under extraordinary circumstances when there are serious concerns about an agency’s compliance with subpart B of this part that require prompt attention, the senior Department official may make a decision in a recognition proceeding based on the record compiled under §602.32 or §602.33 after providing the agency with an opportunity to respond to the final staff analysis. Any decision made by the senior Department official absent a recommendation from the Advisory Committee may be appealed to the Secretary as provided in §602.37.

(c) Following consideration of an agency’s recognition under this section, the senior Department official issues a recognition decision.

(d) Except with respect to decisions made under paragraph (f) or (g) of this section and matters referred to the senior Department official under §602.37(e) or (f), the senior Department official notifies the agency in writing of the senior Department official’s decision regarding the agency’s recognition within 90 days of the Advisory Committee meeting or conclusion of the review under paragraph (b) of this section.

(e) The senior Department official’s decision may include, but is not limited to, approving, denying, limiting, suspending, or terminating recognition, granting or denying an application for an expansion of scope, revising or affirming the scope of the agency, or continuing recognition pending submission and review of a compliance report under §§602.32 and 602.34 and review of the report by the senior Department official under this section.

(1)(i) The senior Department official approves recognition if the agency complies with the criteria for recognition listed in subpart B of this part and if the agency effectively applies those criteria.

(ii) If the senior Department official approves recognition, the recognition decision defines the scope of recognition and the recognition period. The recognition period does not exceed five years, including any time during which recognition was continued to permit submission and review of a compliance report.

(iii) If the scope or period of recognition is less than that requested by the agency, the senior Department official explains the reasons for approving a lesser scope or recognition period.

(2)(i) Except as provided in paragraph (e)(3) of this section, if the agency either fails to comply with the criteria for recognition listed in subpart B of this part, or to apply those criteria effectively, the senior Department official denies, limits, suspends, or terminates recognition.

(ii) If the senior Department official denies, limits, suspends, or terminates recognition, the senior Department official specifies the reasons for this decision, including all criteria the agency fails to meet and all criteria the agency has failed to apply effectively.

(3)(i) Except as provided in paragraph (e)(3)(ii) of this section, if a recognized agency fails to demonstrate compliance with or effective application of a criterion or criteria, but the senior Department official concludes that the agency will demonstrate or achieve compliance with the criteria for recognition and effective application of those criteria within 12 months or less, the senior Department official may continue the agency’s recognition, pending submission by the agency of a compliance report, review of the report under §§602.32 and 602.34, and review of the report by the senior Department official under this section. In such a case, the senior Department official specifies the criteria the compliance report must address, and a time period, not longer than 12 months, during which the agency must achieve compliance and effectively apply the criteria. The compliance report documenting compliance and effective application of criteria is due not later than 30 days after the end of the period specified in the senior Department official’s decision.

(ii) If the record includes a compliance report, and the senior Department official determines that an agency has not complied with the criteria for recognition, or has not effectively applied those criteria, during the time period specified by the senior Department official in accordance with paragraph (e)(3)(i) of this section, the senior Department official denies, limits, suspends, or terminates recognition, except, in extraordinary circumstances, upon a showing of good cause for an extension of time as determined by the senior Department official and detailed in the senior Department official’s decision. If the senior Department official determines good cause for an extension has been shown, the senior Department official specifies the length of the extension and what the agency must do during it to merit a renewal of recognition.

(f) If the senior Department official determines, based on the record, that a decision to deny, limit, suspend, or terminate an agency’s recognition may be warranted based on a finding that the agency is noncompliant with, or ineffective in its application of, a criterion or criteria of recognition not identified earlier in the proceedings as an area of noncompliance, the senior Department official provides--

(1) The agency with an opportunity to submit a written response and documentary evidence addressing the finding; and

(2) The staff with an opportunity to present its analysis in writing.

(g) If relevant and material information pertaining to an agency’s compliance with recognition criteria, but not contained in the record, comes to the senior Department official’s attention while a decision regarding the agency’s recognition is pending before the senior Department official, and if the senior Department official concludes the recognition decision should not be made without consideration of the information, the senior Department official either--

(1)(i) Does not make a decision regarding recognition of the agency; and

(ii) Refers the matter to Department staff for review and analysis under §602.32 or §602.33, as appropriate, and consideration by the Advisory Committee under §602.34; or

(2)(i) Provides the information to the agency and Department staff;

(ii) Permits the agency to respond to the senior Department official and the Department staff in writing, and to include additional evidence relevant to the issue, and specifies a deadline;

(iii) Provides Department staff with an opportunity to respond in writing to the agency’s submission under paragraph (g)(2)(ii) of this section, specifying a deadline; and

(iv) Issues a recognition decision based on the record described in paragraph (a) of this section, as supplemented by the information provided under this paragraph.

(h) No agency may submit information to the senior Department official, or ask others to submit information on its behalf, for purposes of invoking paragraph (g) of this section. Before invoking paragraph (g) of this section, the senior Department official will take into account whether the information, if submitted by a third party, could have been submitted in accordance with §602.32(a) or §602.33(e)(2).

(i) If the senior Department official does not reach a final decision to approve, deny, limit, suspend, or terminate an agency’s recognition before the expiration of its recognition period, the senior Department official automatically extends the recognition period until a final decision is reached.

(j) Unless appealed in accordance with §602.37, the senior Department official’s decision is the final decision of the Secretary.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1099b)

APPEAL RIGHTS AND PROCEDURES

§602.37 Appealing the senior Department official’s decision to the Secretary.

(a) The agency may appeal the senior Department official’s decision to the Secretary. Such appeal stays the decision of the senior Department official until final disposition of the appeal. If an agency wishes to appeal, the agency must-

(1) Notify the Secretary and the senior Department official in writing of its intent to appeal the decision of the senior Department official, no later than ten days after receipt of the decision;

(2) Submit its appeal to the Secretary in writing no later than 30 days after receipt of the decision; and

(3) Provide the senior Department official with a copy of the appeal at the same time it submits the appeal to the Secretary.

(b) The senior Department official may file a written response to the appeal. To do so, the senior Department official must--

(1) Submit a response to the Secretary no later than 30 days after receipt of a copy of the appeal; and

(2) Provide the agency with a copy of the senior Department official’s response at the same time it is submitted to the Secretary.

(c) Neither the agency nor the senior Department official may include in its submission any new evidence it did not submit previously in the proceeding.

(d) On appeal, the Secretary makes a recognition decision, as described in §602.36(e). If the decision requires a compliance report, the report is due within 30 days after the end of the period specified in the Secretary’s decision. The Secretary renders a final decision after taking into account the senior Department official’s decision, the agency’s written submissions on appeal, the senior Department official’s response to the appeal, if any, and the entire record before the senior Department official. The Secretary notifies the agency in writing of the Secretary’s decision regarding the agency’s recognition.

(e) The Secretary may determine, based on the record, that a decision to deny, limit, suspend, or terminate an agency’s recognition may be warranted based on a finding that the agency is noncompliant with, or ineffective in its application with respect to, a criterion or criteria for recognition not identified as an area of noncompliance earlier in the proceedings. In that case, the Secretary, without further consideration of the appeal, refers the matter to the senior Department official for consideration of the issue under §602.36(f). After the senior Department official makes a decision, the agency may, if desired, appeal that decision to the Secretary.

(f) If relevant and material information pertaining to an agency’s compliance with recognition criteria, but not contained in the record, comes to the Secretary’s attention while a decision regarding the agency’s recognition is pending before the Secretary, and if the Secretary concludes the recognition decision should not be made without consideration of the information, the Secretary either--

(1)(i) Does not make a decision regarding recognition of the agency; and

(ii) Refers the matter to Department staff for review and analysis under §602.32 or §602.33, as appropriate, and review by the Advisory Committee under §602.34; and consideration by the senior Department official under §602.36; or

(2)(i) Provides the information to the agency and the senior Department official;

(ii) Permits the agency to respond to the Secretary and the senior Department official in writing, and to include additional evidence relevant to the issue, and specifies a deadline;

(iii) Provides the senior Department official with an opportunity to respond in writing to the agency’s submission under paragraph (f)(2)(ii) of this section, specifying a deadline; and

(iv) Issues a recognition decision based on all the materials described in paragraphs (d) and (f) of this section.

(g) No agency may submit information to the Secretary, or ask others to submit information on its behalf, for purposes of invoking paragraph (f) of this section. Before invoking paragraph(f) of this section, the Secretary will take into account whether the information, if submitted by a third party, could have been submitted in accordance with §602.32(a) or §602.33(e)(2).

(h) If the Secretary does not reach a final decision on appeal to approve, deny, limit, suspend, or terminate an agency’s recognition before the expiration of its recognition period, the Secretary automatically extends the recognition period until a final decision is reached.

§602.38 Contesting the Secretary’s final decision to deny, limit, suspend, or terminate an agency’s recognition.
An agency may contest the Secretary’s decision under this part in the Federal courts as a final decision in accordance with applicable Federal law. Unless otherwise directed by the court, a decision of the Secretary to deny, limit, suspend, or terminate the agency’s recognition is not stayed during an appeal in the Federal courts.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1099b)


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Last Modified: 09/18/2014