34 CFR § 602.18 - Ensuring consistency in decision-making.
(a) The agency must consistently apply and enforce standards that respect the stated mission of the institution, including religious mission, and that ensure that the education or training offered by an institution or program, including any offered through distance education, correspondence courses, or direct assessment education is of sufficient quality to achieve its stated objective for the duration of any accreditation or preaccreditation period.
(b) The agency meets the requirement in paragraph (a) of this section if the agency -
(1) Has written specification of the requirements for accreditation and preaccreditation that include clear standards for an institution or program to be accredited or preaccredited;
(2) Has effective controls against the inconsistent application of the agency's standards;
(3) Bases decisions regarding accreditation and preaccreditation on the agency's published standards and does not use as a negative factor the institution's religious mission-based policies, decisions, and practices in the areas covered by § 602.16(a)(1)(ii), (iii), (iv), (vi), and (vii) provided, however, that the agency may require that the institution's or program's curricula include all core components required by the agency;
(4) Has a reasonable basis for determining that the information the agency relies on for making accrediting decisions is accurate;
(5) Provides the institution or program with a detailed written report that clearly identifies any deficiencies in the institution's or program's compliance with the agency's standards; and
(6) Publishes any policies for retroactive application of an accreditation decision, which must not provide for an effective date that predates either -
(i) An earlier denial by the agency of accreditation or preaccreditation to the institution or program; or
(ii) The agency's formal approval of the institution or program for consideration in the agency's accreditation or preaccreditation process.
(c) Nothing in this part prohibits an agency, when special circumstances exist, to include innovative program delivery approaches or, when an undue hardship on students occurs, from applying equivalent written standards, policies, and procedures that provide alternative means of satisfying one or more of the requirements set forth in 34 CFR 602.16, 602.17, 602.19, 602.20, 602.22, and 602.24, as compared with written standards, policies, and procedures the agency ordinarily applies, if -
(1) The alternative standards, policies, and procedures, and the selection of institutions or programs to which they will be applied, are approved by the agency's decision-making body and otherwise meet the intent of the agency's expectations and requirements;
(2) The agency sets and applies equivalent goals and metrics for assessing the performance of institutions or programs;
(3) The agency's process for establishing and applying the alternative standards, policies, and procedures is set forth in its published accreditation manuals; and
(4) The agency requires institutions or programs seeking the application of alternative standards to demonstrate the need for an alternative assessment approach, that students will receive equivalent benefit, and that students will not be harmed through such application.
(d) Nothing in this part prohibits an agency from permitting the institution or program to be out of compliance with one or more of its standards, policies, and procedures adopted in satisfaction of §§ 602.16, 602.17, 602.19, 602.20, 602.22, and 602.24 for a period of time, as determined by the agency annually, not to exceed three years unless the agency determines there is good cause to extend the period of time, and if -
(1) The agency and the institution or program can show that the circumstances requiring the period of noncompliance are beyond the institution's or program's control, such as -
(i) A natural disaster or other catastrophic event significantly impacting an institution's or program's operations;
(ii) Accepting students from another institution that is implementing a teach-out or closing;
(iii) Significant and documented local or national economic changes, such as an economic recession or closure of a large local employer;
(iv) Changes relating to State licensure requirements;
(v) The normal application of the agency's standards creates an undue hardship on students; or
(vi) Instructors who do not meet the agency's typical faculty standards, but who are otherwise qualified by education or work experience, to teach courses within a dual or concurrent enrollment program, as defined in 20 U.S.C. 7801, or career and technical education courses;
(2) The grant of the period of noncompliance is approved by the agency's decision-making body;
(3) The agency projects that the institution or program has the resources necessary to achieve compliance with the standard, policy, or procedure postponed within the time allotted; and
(4) The institution or program demonstrates to the satisfaction of the agency that the period of noncompliance will not -
(i) Contribute to the cost of the program to the student without the student's consent;
(ii) Create any undue hardship on, or harm to, students; or
(iii) Compromise the program's academic quality.