4 federal recommendations to improve accreditation

The U.S. Department of Education has released legislative proposals, executive actions to improve the accreditation process.

accreditation-federal[Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of our coverage of accreditation reformation. Part 2 on Dec. 7th will focus on California’s college accrediting system. Stay tuned!]

In the wake of online learning, competency-based education, and a host of other alternative pathways and programs, accreditation has been in the reformation spotlight this year. And now the government is jumping in.

The U.S. Department of Education has announced a number of legislative proposals to help guide Congressional action on improving and reforming accreditation in higher education.

Traditionally, accreditation has functioned as a form of quality assurance in higher education. Schools must be accredited if they are to participate in federal financial aid programs, and accreditation has served in a gatekeeping capacity to help regulate institutions’ access to federal aid.

Accreditors must maintain baseline levels of quality and performance across schools, degree types, and academic programs.

Despite this role, there is a growing push to improve accreditation, both by establishing alternative accreditation pathways and by evaluating accreditation’s rigor and flexibility.

One impetus behind this movement is the failure of the Corinthian/Heald schools while fully accredited. In addition, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity called for the Department to strengthen its oversight of schools and accreditors in 2012 and 2015. A December 2014 GAO report called for the same.

Academics have debated the problems with the current accreditation system, with some saying the accreditation agencies need a process that is better-outlined in order to be most effective, while others say an entirely new model is needed.

(Next page: Government recommendations and comments from higher-ed leaders)

Laura Ascione