Online college degrees won’t become more commonplace unless and until state agencies and accreditation organizations pledge to be more flexible in defining what counts as a credit-bearing course, President Obama’s council of technologists and scientists charged.
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), created by the Obama administration in 2009, wrote in an open letter that the federal government “should continue to encourage the regional accrediting bodies to be flexible in recognizing that many standards normally required for an accredited degree should be modified in the online arena.”
It’s an oft-repeated argument among online education advocates who have seen web-based learning sometimes stunted by long-held accreditation practices and traditions created before the proliferation of high-speed internet: the college degree has changed, prompting a shift in how schools are accredited.
Unwillingness to push for more flexibility in degree accreditation, PCAST members wrote, could be a death knell for the massive open online course (MOOC) movement, of which the council was supportive.
“If the bar for accreditation is set too high, the infant industry developing MOOC and related technology platforms may struggle to realize its full potential,” the council wrote.
The PCAST letter conceded that accrediting agencies do a “reasonably good job of quality assurance,” though there are many established accreditation requirements that are irrelevant to online college programs.
Elizabeth Allen, an American Council on Education (ACE) accreditor who recently reviewed a MOOC, said her evaluation of the experimental online class followed the same standards as a traditional course.