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Commission on Quality Assurance and Alternative Higher Education Issues Paper on Non-Institutional Higher Education

The Commission on Quality Assurance and Alternative Higher Education – established by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the Presidents’ Forum – has issued a paper on its work titled Quality Assurance and Alternative Higher Education: A Policy Perspective.

The Commission was established to explore the growth of the “non-institutional” sector of higher education and whether some form of external quality review that is both voluntary and non-regulatory would be desirable. This sector is comprised of providers other than traditional colleges and universities that offer courses, modules or badges.

"The world is witnessing a rapidly emerging national and international campus without boundaries," said Paul Shiffman, Chief Executive Officer of the Presidents’ Forum. “Even as the landscape changes, however, the challenges to assure and enhance quality remain."

"The importance of this issue is reflected by the number of bills introduced in Congress addressing alternative higher education and recently announced Lumina Foundation funding to explore the possibility of expanding the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education to include non-institutional credential providers," noted CHEA President Judith Eaton.

The Commission paper frames six questions for further inquiry and action, including whether a quality review process for alternative providers of postsecondary education would offer effective documentation of quality and credibility to the public, whether a preliminary cost-benefit analysis of a model quality review would be informative and whether a quality focus based on competences (student outcomes) would be an effective approach.

Commission members included leaders from colleges and universities, associations, accreditation, business and the alternative education sector. The Commission met in December 2013 and February 2014.


A national advocate and institutional voice for academic quality through accreditation, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is an association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities and recognizes 60 institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations.

The Presidents’ Forum, established in 2004, is a collaboration of accredited, national, adult- serving institutions and programs which have embraced the power and potential of online education.

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