Florida Mandates Change of Accreditors for Public Universities
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that would significantly change the accreditation process for public colleges and universities in the state and may have national implications for higher education institutions, as well. Senate Bill 7044 would require all Florida public educational institutions to change their accreditor during each review cycle.
In announcing his approval of the legislation, DeSantis declared, “Florida’s students deserve a quality, affordable education and don’t need ideological activists and political organizations determining what they should learn.” Under the new law, “A public postsecondary education institution may not be accredited by the same accrediting agency or association for consecutive accreditation cycles.” (See Florida Senate Bill 7044, Section 3(2)). The measure additionally provides for the award of liquidated damages to a public college or university “negatively impacted by retaliatory action” taken by an accrediting agency.
The legislation appears to have been motivated, at least in part, by vocal involvement of the accreditor the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) following the recent controversial actions of the University of Florida to limit the ability of its faculty to testify as expert witnesses in court proceedings challenging new state voter restrictions. The legislation was made possible because of regulatory action undertaken by the Trump administration in 2019 that reversed the geographic monopolies that defined operational boundaries for regional accreditors and permitted direct competition between accreditors for institutional members.
At the time that the operational boundaries of regional accreditors were lifted, some feared that competition among accreditors would lead to a significant degradation in the quality of academic review processes. While the former regional accreditors have largely respected their previously imposed boundaries to date, the Florida legislation may change the playing field dramatically, especially if legislatures in other states follow its lead.