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"Taking a Look At Ourselves, Accreditation"
Good morning and welcome to the fifth Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) Enhancing Usefulness Conference.
There are 49 accrediting organizations represented here and 40 colleges and universities. We are also joined by colleagues from state and federal government and various higher education associations. And, we are fortunate to have international colleagues from Namibia, the UK, Canada, United Arab Emirates and Finland with us as well.
Lets take advantage of this impressive gathering of quality assurance leaders and invest some time this morning in a very important effort"taking a look at ourselves, accreditation."
Lets look at:
Taking A Look: What We Are
1. United States Accreditation Is a Robust Industry
State and federal government rely heavily on us:
Other countries rely on us for verification of quality of institutions and degrees.
We are fundamental to the professions, with state certification of professionals heavily dependent on whether or not students have completed accredited programs.
We are fundamental to public decisions about the worth of higher education institutions: decisions by students about where to attend college and determinations by the public about whether an institution is considered "quality."
And, very significantly, accreditation is:
Accreditation is an essential part of American higher education and education policy. We have a great deal of which to be proud.
2. United States Accreditation Is a Complex And Unwieldy Enterprise
Accreditation is a decentralized enterprisesome would even say a duplicative enterprise:
3. United States Accreditation Is a Sometimes Controversial Enterprise
At its worst, accreditation is perceived as:
Few people suggest that we do away with U.S. accreditation. Butthere are frequently offered suggestions about changing it. Two favorites are:
Needless to say, these are not positions that CHEA supports.
U.S. accreditation, then, is a robust, complex and unwieldy and sometimes controversial enterprise. These are the first things that we see when we "take a look at ourselves, accreditation..."
Taking a Look: What We Face
We dont have to "take a very hard look..." to see that we face large changes in the world of higher education. I will concentrate on three:
1. Universalization of higher educationthe first large change
Universalizationthe way we are doing itis a transition from higher education as deliberative intellectual development over a fairly extended period of time to higher education as more immediate acquisition of skills. It is more often about information transfer than cognitive development.
At its core, universalization challenges accreditation to take a quality review system designed for higher education that is a site-based, residential, degree-granting, mostly full-time experience for a limited number of people and apply it to an expansive higher education systemone open to all, with or without site, with or without degrees and with or without residence.
Its not just universalization, but how we are universalizing as well.
2. "New commercialization" of higher educationthe second large change
At its core, "new commercialization" challenges accreditation to consider whether these new commercial cultures can produce quality and under what conditions.
3. Internationalization of higher educationthe third large change
At its core, internationalization challenges U.S. accreditation (and quality assurance leaders around the world) to examine what it means to take institutions, programs and quality review systems designed for domestic consumption into an international arena.
So"taking a look at ourselves, accreditation"what we facemeans attention to:
Taking a Look: What We Might Do In the Future
Well, "...so what?" You might be asking.
Accreditation is a robust enterprise. Accreditation will respond to these changesas we have responded in the past (e.g., with the expansion of higher education with the GI bill, with community colleges; with the emergence of the part-time, older student).
We have a good track record.
But this time aroundI am concerned that the changes with which we are confronted are indeed so large and profound. This makes me wonder whether our responses may result in changes to accreditation itself that are more fundamental than superficial.
We may be facing a period where accommodating change is really transforming our enterprise.
In my view, we are being askedimplicitly or explicitlyto at least consider six significant alterations to the accreditation model we currently use. And, I am not sure that very many of these changes would be palatable to very many of us. Nonetheless, let me offer them up for consideration.
1. First alterationexpand the scope and type of work of accreditation
Why expand our scope of work? Universalization and new commercialization are making coursework and certification more important than ever before. We need quality assurance for these offerings.
2. Second alterationmake the accreditation process less time- consuming
Why take less time? Universalization and new commercialization encourage proliferation of new providers. This is fueled by electronic capacity. Anybody can be a higher education provider todayand some are. We need quality review that keeps pace with the pace of emerging providers. We need to make it difficult for operations of dubious quality to reach students.
3. Third alterationdevelop additional capacity for quality judgments based on student learning outcomes
Why more attention to outcomes? In this environment of universalization and new commercialization, quality judgments based on outcomes appear to engender greater confidence than quality judgments based on "the process is ok." We need to help the public make good judgments in this diversifying environment. At least for some, this is more reliably done with outcomes. CHEA hears this routinely from government, from employers and from policymakers.
4. Fourth alterationexpand national capacity of regional accreditation
Why expand national capacity? New commercialization favors providers without geographic boundaries. This doesnt fit with regionalism. Increasingly, "regional" accreditation serves a national market.
5. Fifth alterationexpand international capacity of all U.S. accreditation
Why expand international capacity? International colleagues want U.S. accreditation; U.S. accreditors want to operate internationally.
6. Sixth alterationexpand and simplify the information we providebe clearer and more open about the quality decisions we make:
Why expansion and simplification? New commercialization and internationalization mean multiple models of higher education and multiple notions of academic quality. This means more students who need more information to make good judgments about quality.
Perhaps we need:
We are challenged by the large changes of universalization, new commercialization and internationalization to shift from accreditation:
To accreditation that does more to:
This shift might be achieved through some of the six alterations outlined above:
The real question is: do we want to go there?
If we do go thereadopt alterations in light of the large changeswe may risk much that we highly value: as with higher education itself, we may be pushed to diminish core academic values; to modify well-established and reliable features of higher education such as the longstanding role of faculty and collegial governance; perhaps even to erode our service to the public good.
If we dont go theremove toward some alterationthere is, I submit, a risk as well. If we ignore universalization, new commercialization and internationalization, we are in danger of being ignored ourselves.
Here are just two examples:
Perhaps state and federal officials are issuing a warning: In this new environment, dont assume that accreditation will be the presumptive deliverer of quality review!
These are the riskswhatever we decide.
We have a lot to considerwhat we are; what we face; what future we want to create. The question is no less than: What must accreditation do to remain the robust enterprise that it is todaya powerful influence on quality in higher education? I doubt that we will respond to this pressure by immediately leaving this meeting and radically altering what we do. I also doubt, however, that we can keep on doing exactly what we have done in the past and remain robust and significant. We will likely navigate the difficult waters of protecting our traditions and some of the pastandresponding to the large changes we face. I hope that some of what I have said this morning helps with this demanding task. And, most of allI urge that we keep on "taking a look at ourselves, accreditation."
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Last Modified: October 7, 2002