The National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education released its final report, Straight Talk about College Costs and Prices, presenting its analysis and an important challenge to American higher education. The report will contribute to a better public understanding of issues of college costs, and it will enrich the public policy dialogue leading to the reauthorization later this year of the Higher Education Act. The report puts forward a five part action agenda for cost controls, information, deregulation, improved student aid, and most significantly for CHEA, an effort to "rethink accreditation."
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation was created in late 1996 to reform and strengthen voluntary accreditation, and we welcome this report. As the Commission members observed, "accreditation is an honored and essential part of higher education" which assures the public and provides accountability.
Beyond affirmation, the Commission goes on to urge "rethinking" in several important ways that are already at the heart of the CHEA agenda and that are the new thrust of many of its member accreditation organizations. Emphasis on achievement measures, and a corresponding de-emphasis on resources, are well under way in many of the associations. Significant progress has been made on the coordination of self-studies and site visits of regional and specialized accreditation organizations. The recommended expansion of cost containment activities with the accreditation process could be salutary, so long as it does not overly distort the fundamental mission of assessment of educational quality. CHEA also agrees with the Commission in its recommendation for stronger accountability without imposing a single standard that could impede institutional diversity.
Straight Talk about College Costs and Prices will expand public interest in strengthening accreditation. CHEA welcomes expansion of these debates. We intend for these debates to lead to a better and more accountable system of accreditation. The Commission's work has made an important contribution to this goal.