Accreditation In the Federal Crosshairs
All eyes in higher education will be focused on Old Town Alexandria, Virginia on December 15th when the National Advisory Committee on Institution Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), the powerful, politically–appointed committee that advises the Secretary of Education on which accrediting associations merit his recognition as reliable authorities as to the quality of education and training.
NACIQI published a draft report) October 18th offering a wide-ranging set of ideas on accreditation and outlining a range of competing policy considerations and possible recommendations that NACIQI may make. NACIQI is considering "what is working (and not working)" including options on the gatekeeping link between accreditation and the federal aid eligibility modifying this link or removing the link.
Severing the link between Federal Aid and accreditation has been kicked around as an option since the mid-1970s, and seems to rear its head every time the HEOA comes up for renewal.
This meeting of the Committee will include an intra-Committee discussion and debate on what changes need to be made and what recommendations they will be making to the Secretary concerning the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which is supposed to be re-authorized in 2013.
The Committee’s recommendations will likely result in becoming some of the most influential ideas which, going forward, will have a profound impact on the future of accreditation and of higher education.
It is a watershed moment and deserves close attention. It is not an overstatement to assert that what the Committee ends up recommending to the Secretary will directly and significantly impact how every DETC member will be conducting its business from 2013 forward. Since the Committee has the power of controlling what accrediting groups must do, and accrediting groups have the ability to control what institutions do, the exercise in Old Town looms to be a huge event in the history of higher education in the 21st Century.
For this reason, The Washington Memo thought it might be interesting to present for its readers a selection of excerpts from letters commenting on the current proposals from some key higher education associations:
"The assumption appears to be that that unless there is significant additional government direction, oversight and monitoring of the accreditation process, public accountability is not adequately addressed.
This change shifts the “ownership” of accreditation from the higher education community that established this process to government. The change shifts the definition of quality from a consideration of academic excellence to consideration of, e.g., consumer protection or efficient use of federal funds or public disclosure—all-important to be sure, but not to be confused with academic excellence. We urge NACIQI to look at both the intended and unintended consequences of any changes to accreditation regulations—as well as analyzing the potential cost in time or money for accreditors or the institutions and programs they accredit—before recommending that any of the options presented in the draft report be pursued.”
“The relationship between accreditation and the federal government should be one of balance. Accreditation should be accountable to government; however, government directing or prescribing accreditation standards is inappropriate to this balanced relationship. “Holding accreditors accountable” is about the government focusing primarily on evidence that these organizations are meeting federal recognition standards. It does not stipulate how the standards are met; this is up to the accreditor.
If we treat accreditation not as a broken enterprise but as an effective process that can and should be reviewed and modified—with the academy maintaining its leadership and working with the federal government—we strengthen accreditation’s value to students and society. We look forward to an ongoing discussion with NACIQI and USDE on these issues.”
“…there is an inherent tension between institutional improvement and Title IV gatekeepoing functions. …If the balance is tipped too far to a gatekeeping role…the result is likely to be an excessively rigid and standardized system and diminished academic input and discretion.”
“NACIQI should find a way to strike a reasonable balance among the needs of students, the needs of government, and the needs of the institutions. This may require the creation of a wholly new system of making institutions eligible for Federal Aid programs while not deforming the historic strengths of voluntary accreditation.”
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