Florida Mandate Targets Accreditation Process for Public Universities

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill that would significantly change the accreditation process for public colleges and universities in the state and could also have national implications for institutions of higher learning. Senate Bill 7044 would require all public educational institutions in Florida to change accreditors during each review cycle.

In announcing his approval of the bill, DeSantis said, “Florida students deserve a quality, affordable education and don’t need ideological activists and political organizations to determine what they should learn.” Under the new law, “a public post-secondary institution cannot be accredited by the same accrediting agency or association for consecutive accreditation cycles.” (To see Florida Senate Bill 7044, section 3(2)). The measure further provides for the award of damages to a public college or university “adversely affected by retaliatory action” taken by an accrediting agency.

The legislation appears to have been prompted, at least in part, by the vocal involvement of the accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), following recent controversial actions by the University of Florida to to limit the ability of his ability to testify as expert witnesses in legal proceedings challenging the state’s new election restrictions. The legislation was made possible by regulatory action taken by the Trump administration in 2019 that overturned geographic monopolies that defined the operational boundaries of regional accreditors and allowed direct competition among accreditors for institutional members.

At the time the operational boundaries of regional accreditors were removed, some feared that competition among accreditors would lead to a significant downgrading of the quality of academic review processes. While former regional accreditors have largely adhered to their previously imposed limits to date, Florida’s legislation could dramatically change the playing field, especially if other state legislatures follow its lead.

© Steptoe & Johnson LLC. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 129

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