The president of a conservative Christian college in Colorado has voiced his concern about proposed changes to the Higher Learning Commission's standards for accreditation that he says could harm religious schools.
Donald Sweeting, president of the 8,000-student Colorado Christian University, spoke during a public hearing for the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee of the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday to comment on changes that could negatively impact religious freedom.
At issue is a draft proposal on the commission's criteria for accreditation that Sweeting said would essentially remove language requiring accrediting bodies to take an institution's "specific and diverse" mission into account when assessing an its commitment to diversity even in the cases of schools with a religious mission.
The Higher Learning Commission is the accrediting agency tasked with overseeing the accreditation of over 1,300 post-secondary schools in the central United States.
"Previously, the Higher Learning Commission clearly acknowledged that schools necessarily differ in their diversity policies and procedures. The original guidelines stated that each school should act 'as appropriate within its mission and for the constituencies it serves,'" Sweeting said during the hearing. "Now, this crucial provision is targeted for deletion."
According to the proposed changes issued in March, institutions' "processes and activities must ensure inclusive and equitable treatment of diverse populations." The new proposal, however, strikes out the part of the policy that states that the treatment of diverse populations may "reflect attention to human diversity as appropriate within its mission and for the constituencies it serves."
"By striking this language, certain institutions could face negative repercussions with regard to their accreditation simply for being true to their religious mission," Sweeting stressed.
Sweeting added that the new draft protocol would give the commission "the prerogative to decide whether a school sufficiently 'ensures inclusive and equitable treatment of diverse populations.'"
"By law, this agency can cut off federal student loans and grants at any 'noncompliant' school by withdrawing accreditation," Sweeting warned.
Sweeting asserted that the proposed changes would not only represent a powerful threat to religious liberty but would also go against the Higher Education Act, which guarantees respect for religious missions of schools.