The President's State of the Union Address and Accreditation

Publication Number 29 February 14, 2013


President Obama’s State of the Union address, delivered on February 12, 2013, generated unexpected attention to higher education accreditation. A document that accompanied the address, The President’s Plan For A Strong Middle Class & A Strong America, contained a section on “Holding colleges accountable for cost, value and quality” that stated:

“The President will call on Congress to consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.”

The suggestion that the federal government may consider a “new, alternative system of accreditation” was covered in publications including The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed and USA Today, all of which quoted the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). It also generated stories critical of the current system of accreditation in publications such as the American Enterprise Institute’s AEI Ideas.

The articles noted the unexpected nature of this discussion of accreditation accompanying the State of the Union address, which CHEA President Judith Eaton termed “startling.” “We understand the importance of the issues of affordability,” Eaton told USA Today. “But all the talk has been about, 'We want to make the existing system [of accreditation] work differently,' not (that) 'We need a different system.'”

Eaton and others quoted in the various articles said that they were unsure what next steps would be for the Administration. However, Inside Higher Ed quoted Amy Laitinen, Deputy Director for Higher Education at the New America Foundation, saying that “I think it’s a pretty big signal of where they [the Administration] want to go.”

CHEA will follow this issue closely and will keep member institutions and recognized accrediting organizations informed on any developments.