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Monday, April 15, 2024

DeSantis challenges federal college accreditation rules

Governor believes accreditation boards carry excessive power over schools

<p>Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a political roundtable, Friday, May 19, 2023, in Bedford, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)</p>

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a political roundtable, Friday, May 19, 2023, in Bedford, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration sued the U.S. Department of Education and top federal officials June 21 for delaying Florida universities from switching accreditors, which are agencies ensuring higher education institutions. 

DeSantis believes the federal rules governing accreditation boards hold excessive power over institutions and avoids approval from state officials.

“Within the next couple of years, I think we're going to see this accreditation cartel basically come crumbling down and more freedom in higher education reigning supreme,” DeSantis said at a June 22 event in Tampa

The lawsuit targets Education Secretary Miguel Cardona along with other Biden officials, claiming the administration is violating the private non-delegation doctrine, the Appointments Clause and the Spending Clause. 

Having an accrediting agency is also mandatory for a school to ensure its students are eligible for federal financial aid.

Florida’s conservative approach to education has highlighted officials’ concerns over the state’s current accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

A build-up of disagreements led to the landmark 2022 law forcing every state school to find a new accreditation board. More than half of Florida’s state colleges and universities are expected to change accreditors in the next two years.

In response to the 2022 law, the Department of Education developed a new policy, stating that universities must provide the Education Department with reasonable cause for switching accreditors and receive approval. Universities then must apply for and receive membership to their new accrediting body before formally notifying USDOE of the change. 

“Governor DeSantis is now bringing his culture wars, like book bans, to the long-standing system that helps ensure students receive quality college education,” the White House wrote in a statement.

Florida Republicans separate the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The move comes after UF’s decision to block three professors from testifying as experts in a legal case challenging a GOP-backed voting bill. 

UF President Ben Sasse shares a similar viewpoint to DeSantis, writing in a 2022 op-ed that student-debt bailout rewards wealthy kids at the cost of middle-class families and gives in to the assumption the current system is sufficient.

“We should instead admit to our underperformance and find ways to introduce alternative approaches — overhauling everything from the credit-hour system to the accrediting cartels,” he wrote. 

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The accreditation lawsuit is set to unfold in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida in Ft. Lauderdale. 

Contact Nicole at nbeltran@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @nicolebeltg.


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Nicole Beltran

Nicole Beltran is a second-year journalism and economics major. This is her first semester as the race and equity reporter. She has previously worked as a translator and editor for El Caimán. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, trying new foods and drawing.


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