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  • Higher education leaders are surprised by our President’s proposals on accreditation
  • Posted By:
  • Karen W.
  • Posted On:
  • 19-Feb-2013
  • In his State of the Union address, our President did not talk about accreditation. After the speech however he released the supplemental document where he made it very clear that he is seeking a lot of changes in terms of higher education accountability.

    This is a comprehensive document spanning nine pages where he has planned for a strong country especially a strong middle class. His intention is clear. He wants more accountability from colleges in terms of quality, value and cost.

    He has specified that a major federal student aid criterion is student outcome. He has also called for colleges to set clear benchmarks. Accessing those dollars is now possible only through national and regional accreditors.

    The plan stipulates that the existing benchmarks could be integrated with the new ones in the current accreditation system. His aim is to create an alternate accreditation system that will open up pathways for colleges and universities to access federal funds based purely on results and performance.

    According to experts and accreditors, it is rare for a sitting president to refer directly to accreditation. Colleges feel that being under the radar is not a very positive thing for them as they will be subjected to greater scrutiny.

    According to Council for Higher Education Accreditation president Judith S. Eaton, this is an unexpected move by the president. She could not at first fathom how accreditation came to be incorporated into the State of Union’s supplement materials. She went on to say however that Obama is not the only president to suggest accreditation reform through Higher Education Act reauthorization.

    Ms Eaton pointed out that middling changes in the accreditation system was recommended by a federal panel earlier this year. More sweeping reforms were proposed by a minority of that panel. This proposal specifically recommended separating federal student aid eligibility from the accreditation process.

    She opined that consumer-friendly information may be the basis for the new accreditation pathway such as salaries, job placements and graduation rates but will not necessarily address important core issues such as critical thinking skills. She said that she is definitely concerned about a system of accreditation run by the government.

    So, what are accreditors saying to all this? For their part they are already providing alternative approach pathways in response to accountability concerns. According to North Central Association of Colleges and Schools’ Higher Learning Commission president Sylvia Manning, recent process and standard revisions put forth by them align with administration’s concerns.

    She says that the commission has already stipulated that assessment standards would have to be increased and graduation rates and student retention rates must be improved by colleges and they have to work out a plan towards this.

    Institutions that receive accreditation from this commission are also required to provide data on default rates of student loans, she said. There is increased response by accreditors to the fast growing online courses and to the fact that student assessment is solely based now on academic credit rather than the time they spend in colleges.


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