Finding the Path: Strategic Direction in National and Regional Accreditation Matters
HMBR’s Education Practice is well-equipped to provide the strategic advice and direction educational institutions need to successfully navigate complex accreditation matters. Our lawyers have decades of combined experience helping institutions of higher learning successfully meet educational standards and criteria imposed by non-governmental accrediting bodies, as well as federal and state regulatory authorities.
The attorneys in our practice provide a variety of accreditation-related services to public and private colleges and universities, as well as for-profit post-secondary schools. These services include: initial applications for accreditation, substantive change applications, change of ownership, site visits and addressing other accreditation concerns.
Our lawyers are well situated to help colleges, universities and other post-secondary schools applying for initial accreditation. We have an intimate understanding how the process operates and we work with clients to assemble and submit all information necessary to secure accreditation. When an institution is preparing for an initial accreditation visit, our lawyers take the institution through a trial run, making sure it knows what to expect and how to best respond to the accreditor’s inquiries. Similarly, when an accredited institution receives notice of a future site visit from an accrediting body, we help the institution gather the appropriate documentation and counsel them on how to properly respond to questions and stay on point during the course of the visit.
“Substantive Change” Applications
Accredited institutions seeking to implement a significant expansion or modification of their services or programs (“substantive change”) are required to provide notification and receive advance approval from their accrediting bodies. The activities deemed to constitute a substantive change (requiring the preparation of a substantive change application) are determined by the accrediting body and typically cover larger scale changes, including:
- Adding a new program in a new discipline
- Geographic expansion, such as the addition of a new campus
- Merging two institutions
- Acquiring another institution
Our education lawyers are experienced in working with school leaders to prepare all types of substantive change applications. We understand that the process is intense and requires extensive information from many different parties operating across the institution. Our team manages the entire project, helping our clients stay on task and construct presentations that set forth the specific information that the accrediting authority is looking for. We also interface directly with accreditors to respond to questions and provide a clear understanding of the proposed modification or expansion. Additionally, when the situation demands, we work with our clients to submit these types of changes for approval to both state licensing agencies and the U.S. Department of Education.
Accreditation Sanctions and Appeals Procedures
When a college or university finds itself in receipt of a sanction notice from an accrediting body, the institution needs to take rapid action to protect itself. An internal investigation of potential wrongdoing conducted by an accrediting agency establishes the record for any future litigation. The attorneys at HMBR understand the serious nature of these types of events and work with our clients to resolve the situation quickly, and whenever possible, through informal channels. We assist our clients in developing institutional responses to the notice and gather all the documentation and evidence needed in the event a sanction is appealed. Should the matter involve an alleged violation of the standards of accreditation, we are fully prepared to challenge the outcome in federal court.
Providing Representation to Accrediting Bodies
In addition to representing colleges and universities in accreditation matters, the attorneys in our Education Practice also have significant experience counseling and advising accrediting bodies. Members of our practice group have served as ongoing counsel to accrediting bodies and trade associations and have sat on or advised their governing boards. Our work in this area includes counseling accreditors in connection with National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) recommendations for the renewal of recognition by the U.S. Department of Education.