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Volume 1, Number 1, September 12, 2005
 

Dear Colleague:

We are pleased to offer this first issue of our new “Inside Accreditation,” a bi-weekly communication from the CHEA president to college and university presidents and chancellors. “Inside Accreditation” will provide brief and succinct news and commentary on accreditation and accreditation related issues that affect you and your institution.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) was established in 1996 by a referendum of college and university presidents as an institutional voice for accreditation. CHEA is an institutional membership organization of approximately 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities.

We hope that you find “Inside Accreditation” of interest and value.

Thank you.

Judith Eaton
President

CHEA Recognition of Accrediting Organizations
Draft Two of the CHEA Recognition Policy and Procedures is currently available for public comment. The recognition policy is the key means by which CHEA carries out one of our major functions on behalf of member institutions: scrutiny of the quality of institutional and program- matic accrediting organizations. Please visit the CHEA Website at www.chea.org to offer your comments and suggestions. Our deadline is September 15, 2005.

Higher Education Reauthorization
Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act continues here in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce is taking up its major reauthorization bill (HR 609) again in September. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed its reauthorization bill in September as well. Some of the major reauth- orization proposals contain important changes to accreditation practice. Please see the CHEA HEA Updates on the CHEA Website at chea.org/ Government/ for the most recent information on reauthorization.
 
Inside Accreditation: Is “Transparency” Good for Accreditation?
“Transparency” is an expectation that more detailed information, more direct communication and more openness will characterize the dealings of important social and political organizations and institutions with the public. It is a popular, if controversial, notion in Washington, DC right now, especially in relation to reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Applying transparency to accreditation means that information about accreditation practice and judgment about academic quality would be both more abundant and more readily available to, e.g., students and the public. Transparency ratchets up the expectations of what accreditors, institutions and programs will tell students, families, lawmakers and any other interested parties about what higher education does and how well it does it.

What will happen if accreditation practice and judgment are more transparent? When asked this question, some presidents, provosts and accreditors tell us that they are confronted with a dilemma. On the one hand, transparency appears to be a reasonable request. On the other hand, there is an awareness that, however unintentionally, transparency may prove harmful to higher education and accreditation as we know it. What do we do?

One response in relation to the call for transparency is to do nothing – in the belief that there is no need to react to what is a perhaps short-lived expectation influencing the public policy environment. As a passing fad, transparency can safely be ignored. And, a good deal of information about accreditation is already available to the public.

Another response is to take the call for transparency as indicative of a more enduring change in the national climate of opinion, reflective of, e.g., the recent Sarbanes-Oxley legislation and what has been, after all, a long-running discussion of public accountability. In this context, the call for transparency would seem to require a reaction. For example, some might say that the extensive additional reporting requirements for institutions and accrediting organizations being discussed as part of higher education reauthorization here in Washington really should become law.

But what if we reframe the issue? The core concern underlying transparency – the integrity and openness of our relationship with the public – is a serious matter to higher education and accreditation. The issue might become: “If we were to address expectations of transparency, how do we do this in such a way that providing additional information does not undermine important and valued features of accreditation practice and judgments about quality?”

There are some givens that are vital if higher education and accreditation are to address transparency yet sustain our integrity. The first given is a commitment to shared responsibility. Higher education created accreditation as a thoughtful and professional means of self-reflection and self-evaluation. If we are going to accede to additional transparency, let’s make sure that institutions, programs and accreditors are working together on how to do this.

The second given is that any additional information about higher education quality is best provided within the context of the mission of an institution or program. However we provide more information to the public, this needs to be mission-based in order to be accurate and useful.

The third given is that, even as we might be more open or transparent, accreditation and higher education need to retain a zone of privacy that provides opportunity for candid exchange of views about quality. Accreditation is a collegial enterprise: It is a peer-based, trust-based, judgment-based system of review of a hugely complex activity – how we organize, present and evaluate collegiate teaching, learning and research. Candid exchange is a fundamental lubricant of the enterprise and cannot be compromised.

Is transparency good for accreditation? We don’t know yet. However, if we in higher education and accreditation should choose to address transparency, we need to assure that we are faithful to the important and valued features of accreditation practice and judgments about quality. Institutions, colleges and accreditors need to be working together. Our commitment to mission needs to animate any information that we might provide. And, it is essential to retain the privacy and confidentiality of our peer-based, trust-based, judgment-based system of collegial self-regulation.


Inside Accreditation is a publication intended to keep presidents of CHEA member institutions informed about developments in external quality review of higher education. Please direct any inquiries or comments to chea@chea.org or to (202) 955-6126.


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