News from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation-Summer 2023

June 12, 2023

Protecting Institutional Autonomy and Academic Freedom

Dr. Cynthia Jackson Hammond, President
Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)

Recently, there have been a lot of news articles regarding accreditation, and it is evident that more education is needed for the public and politicians regarding the role and responsibilities of accrediting organizations.

What is clear is that CHEA’s mission is more important than ever. CHEA was formed in 1996 in response to higher education presidents and chancellors seeking a non-government organization to protect the autonomy of institutions and the value of academic freedom. These two essential principles – combined – ensure that students are successful and are able to obtain a college degree that leads to expanded opportunities for career employment or advanced enrollment in professional schools.

CHEA accreditors serve the purpose of ensuring academic quality and integrity of institutions and academic programs. A major outcome of CHEA is the provision of recognition for accrediting organizations that meet rigorous standards of accountability and transparency in the review processes. CHEA continues to be available to educate legislative bodies and political aspirants on the merits and value of accreditation and how the process serves students, families, and communities.

This edition of Accreditation Central focuses on faith-based accrediting organizations and institutions. Take time to read the critical message from Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) President Dr. Timothy Eaton who explains the vital role his organization plays in ensuring the autonomy of faith-based institutions. Additionally read the insightful perspective from New Saint Andrews College President, Dr. Benjamin R. Merkle’s comments about the importance of being a CHEA-recognized, TRACS-accredited institution.

Also included in this edition is the latest government relations update on the Department of Education’s decision to hold negotiated rulemaking hearings this fall on a series of topics including accreditation.

I hope you enjoy a relaxing summer.

The Importance of Faith-Based Institutional Accreditation

Dr. Timothy Eaton, President
Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS)

To better serve students and constituents, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) strives for excellence in every area of higher education. Beyond being an agency authorized by the U.S. Department of Education, CHEA's non-governmental recognition of TRACS is a significant academic quality measure.

TRACS is an institutional faith-based accreditor serving over 100 institutions committed to academic excellence. The CHEA recognition process provides TRACS with an external review of its standards, policies, and procedures, assuring the public of the capacity and competence of TRACS as an accrediting agency.

The fact that CHEA holds all accreditors to the same recognition standards enhances the value of TRACS accreditation for Christian postsecondary institutions. The CHEA focus on quality improvement requires TRACS to continue to evaluate its mission-based approach, peer review processes, educational outcomes, and operations, ensuring transparent and consistent evaluation of institutions.

TRACS, as an accrediting organization, needs an internationally reputable quality assurance agency like CHEA since TRACS accredits institutions in several foreign countries that recognize CHEA as an international authority on accreditation and quality assurance.

In addition to the value of CHEA recognition, CHEA is a significant partner in higher education. CHEA updates on higher education issues and advocacy for accreditation on the federal level bring strength that no single agency can muster. The professional development and collaborative opportunities with colleagues and other agencies help address common concerns.

TRACS is a better accrediting agency today through its continued submission to the CHEA recognition process and our mutual commitment to quality improvement.

The Key Beneficiaries of Accreditation are Students

Dr. Benjamin R. Merkle, President
New Saint Andrews College

Is there value in accreditation beyond providing gatekeepers for federal funds? New Saint Andrews College takes no federal funds, yet we have been accredited for almost twenty years. What is our motivation? We are interested in the welfare of our students after they graduate or transfer, and the accreditation of our degree smooths their path at other institutions. Transfer credits or acceptance into a graduate program are real and tangible benefits to our students, and they are much more likely to receive these benefits if our institution shares an accreditor with the receiving institution. However, we are also interested in serving our students well while they are in our care, and the accountability that accreditors provide improves our service to them. Membership does not guarantee quality, but it encourages effort towards improvements.

Our institution has well-qualified faculty who care deeply about our students and their education. However, in the term-to-term work that goes on each academic year, it would be easy to neglect bigger picture institutional self-examination. The rhythm of accreditation imposes upon us a calendar of healthy self-assessment. Just documenting our goals and how we are meeting them clarifies our progress and identifies necessary changes. Peer evaluators then benefit both our institution and theirs through the cross-pollination of ideas.

Accreditors who accept different missions and value real assessments over box-checking compliance can be handy partners. Our institution has been improved by the process.

Government Relations - USDE Announces Negotiated Rulemaking on Topics Including Accreditation

Jan Friis, Senior Vice President for Government Relations
Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)

In January, the Biden administration announced its intent for the Department of Education (USDE) to hold negotiated rulemaking hearings on a series of topics including accreditation. In April, public hearings were held to receive input on agenda items for consideration at the rulemaking sessions. These hearings began the process of considering new USDE regulations. After considering the input received at those hearings, USDE will finalize the agenda for the rulemaking process and solicit nominations for negotiators to serve on the negotiated rulemaking committee. USDE is planning three, four-day sessions of negotiated rulemaking to begin this fall.
USDE states that the potential topics for rulemaking include the following:

  1. The Secretary’s recognition of accrediting agencies and related issues.
  2. Institutional eligibility, including State authorization.
  3. The definition of distance education as it pertains to clock-hour programs, and reporting students who enroll primarily online.
  4. Other topics.

More than 20 commenters addressed accreditation as an issue they want discussed at Negotiated Rulemaking. Items requested for negotiation by outside groups are:

  1. A comprehensive review of accreditation including,
  2. Review all complaints against an institution.
  3. Desire for stronger regulations on student learning outcomes.
  4. Need for more data.
  5. Accreditor to review third party contracts.
  6. Review accreditor capacity.
  7. Review accreditor public member regulations.
  8. Have accreditation protect tenure, academic freedom, and shared governance.
  9. USDE should develop common definitions of accreditor sanctions.
  10. Limit multiple accreditations for an institution.
  11. There is much for USDE to consider.

CHEA Accreditation Arbitration Program Brochure

Details of CHEA’s Accreditation Arbitration Program are now available in a new brochure designed to help in non-binding arbitration between institutions of higher education and recognized post-secondary accrediting organizations. The Arbitration Program is an impartial arbitration process to facilitate arbitration between institutions and accrediting organizations and is open to all accredited institutions and to all CHEA-recognized or U.S. Department of Education-recognized accreditation organizations to resolve disputes regarding final, adverse accreditation decisions. To read the Arbitration Program brochure, click on this link, and then click on the document’s cover page below to get detailed information. To access the CHEA Arbitration Program webpage, click here.

CHEA Almanac Published

In April 2023, CHEA published the latest version of CHEA Almanac of External Quality Review. The fully online, searchable Almanac contains information on accreditation in the United States and profiles all institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations recognized by CHEA, USDE or both.

Look for the information you need on how accreditation operates in the United States or on regional, national career-related, national faith-related or programmatic accrediting organizations, including contact information for each accreditor, all in one place.

Applications Being Accepted for CHEA’s 2024 Spring Fellows Program

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) Fellows Program is now open for candidates interested in joining us this Spring, 2024. Candidates are asked to complete every section of our application for full consideration. Applicants must be enrolled at the senior level of their graduate program from an institution that holds current membership with CHEA. Institutional members are listed at Fellows’ terms are delineated by fall, spring and summer. Each internship is limited to one eight-week span. Read details of the CHEA Fellows Program, here. Listed below are submission due dates for applications: March 1- Fall (September-December) July 1- Spring (January-April) December 1- Summer (May-August).