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The Conversation Continues...

By Judith Eaton, President, Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)

July 7, 2017

We came away from the recent 2017 CHEA Summer Workshop in Washington, DC, with a number of ideas, suggestions and insights into the future of accreditation, befitting a meeting titled "Perspectives on Accreditation." The ideas covered several areas, from accreditation's relationship with the federal government to how accreditation operates to the impact of innovation in higher education on accreditation.

Starting with the relationship to government, participants and presenters discussed what amounts to what Rick Legon of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges described as a trade-off: If accreditation will do more about student learning outcomes and transparency, the federal presence in accreditation might be constructively diminished. Barbara Brittingham of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education spoke of getting to regulatory relief through creating experimental sites for accreditation, providing an opportunity to further innovation.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Alabama) talked about "targeted waivers" or relief from some federal regulation for accreditation if accreditation scaled up its transparency. Congressman Paul Mitchell (R-Michigan) emphasized that aggregate student learning outcomes information that was fully transparent was essential. Both Congressmen are members of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development. Along similar lines, Amy Laitinen of New America urged that accreditors make lobbying government for better data about what happens to students a top priority.

On accreditation operation, Richard Ekman of Council of Independent Colleges urged regional accreditors in particular to look for ways to outsource some of their routine scrutiny or find more efficient ways to obtain needed information, freeing up more of the self-study and peer review to concentrate on quality issues most valuable to institutions. Rini Sampath of the National Campus Leadership Council called for a stronger voice for students, both in the accreditation process and reflected in the issues that accreditors address, e.g., mental health support for students.

When it came to innovation, Alana Dunagan of the Clayton Christensen Institute talked about "smaller denominations of education" that were emerging and the imperative for change that is affecting both higher education and accreditation. Paul Fain of Inside Higher Ed discussed the challenge to accreditors with emerging new models such as Purdue University/Kaplan University and what this might mean for the future. Carmel Martin of the Center for American Progress (CAP) described the recent alternative track for quality review for innovative providers that CAP has developed, available to traditional institutions as well. When it comes to calls for change in accreditation, Barbara Brittingham asked, while we keep talking about reform and innovation, "What of traditional accreditation do we want to keep?"

All in all, it was a good day - lots of ideas and opportunities for reflection, lots of discussion and challenging ideas. It is all part of moving accreditation forward.

(The links above are to commentaries from the CHEA Op-Ed Series or other articles expanding upon ideas discussed at the Summer Workshop. Articles covering the Workshop appeared in Education Dive and Diverse Issues in Higher Education.)


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Last Modified: Jul 7, 2017

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