Accreditation for Colleges, Universities Questioned

Accreditors that certify the worthiness of higher education institutions may have to change how they operate due to new uses of technology, rapidly changing student demographics, and a growing commitment to competency based learning.  In a hearing held by the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, members from both parties of the U.S. House of Representatives aired grievances with the current accreditation system, reports Eric Kelderman from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Representative Virginia Foxx, the subcommittee’s chairwoman and a Republican of North Carolina, suggests that an alternative accreditation system be created to meet the changing landscape of higher education.

“If standards to measure quality continue to be based on so-called traditional programs and students of the past, those institutions working diligently to innovate and serve the needs of today’s students … could be at an accreditation disadvantage,” Representative Foxx said in her prepared remarks at the beginning of the hearing.

Kevin Carey, Director of the Education Policy Program at the non-profit New America Foundation, believes that while the nation’s six regional accrediting organization have a role in the US to regulate institutions, they are not prepared to handle evaluating the quality of colleges as well as being a gatekeeper for federal student aid.

In order for a college’s students to be eligible for federal student aid, including subsidized student loans and Pell Grants, colleges must be accredited by a federally-recognized evaluation body.

“The accreditation system did not stand by and allow costs to skyrocket and standards to decline because accreditors are indifferent to these problems,” Mr. Carey said. “They did it because the accreditation system is not equipped to solve these problems. It never has been, and never will be, as currently designed.”

Anne D. Neal, President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni,  believes that the accreditation process is too expensive for new colleges and too burdensome for existing colleges.

She suggests separating accreditation and federal student aid, and also proposes that colleges provide a basic set of information to the public including cost of attendance, graduation rates, job-placement rates, degree programs offered, and student-loan default rates. This would allow students and their families to be able to make a better-informed decision on where to apply and to attend college.

The current accreditation system was defended by its representatives. They said that they were responding to recent education changes and were prepared to meet new demands from the public and lawmakers.

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