Accreditation: Critical to Higher Education

In recent weeks the topic of colleges and universities in danger of losing their accredited status has received a great deal of news coverage. Why is this such a hot topic lately and why does it matter?

It is a hot topic because of two major announcements. First, City College of San Francisco (CCSF) was notified by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that it has eight months to make significant improvements in its leadership and financial administration and show cause as to why it should not lose its accredited status. CCSF is the largest college in the state of California. Under state law only accredited colleges can receive public funding which is vital for CCSF’s operations. If it does, in fact, lose its accredited status, CCSF will likely have to shut its doors to its 90,000 students.

The second major announcement was that Ashford University, in Clinton, Iowa, received notice from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges that it has been denied initial accreditation. Ashford’s parent company is Bridgepoint Education, Inc. (NYSE:BPI), a for-profit education company. Although Ashford has stated that it plans to appeal the decision, Bridgepoint’s share price has fallen nearly 60% since Bridgepoint disclosed these findings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on July 9. An investor lawsuit also has been filed over alleged concealing of Ashford’s accreditation problems.

Not only are there significant fiscal implications for colleges and universities, there can be a direct and immediate impact on the students who are enrolled when accreditation is lost that goes beyond trying to find another place of study. Schools generally will not admit students into a graduate program whose undergraduate degree is from an unaccredited institution nor can credits normally be transferred from an unaccredited school. And looking forward, many companies often will not hire people who hold degrees from unaccredited institutions.

While there are many institutions of higher education that are in perilous positions, such as Mountain State University in West Virginia, that is not accepting students for the upcoming fall semester after being notified that accreditation is being withdrawn as of August 27, there are some bright spots. Cal Poly (California Polytechnic State University) in San Luis Obispo, California was commended by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and re-accredited for another 10 years, the maximum period allowed.

Institutions of higher education must continuously work to maintain their accredited status. It is a critical “stamp of approval” that students, public agencies and funders/investors look for. I hope that those schools in danger of losing their accredited status make the necessary corrections to once again demonstrate implementation of standards and maintain their accreditation.

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  1. Update: Mountain State University has filed an “intent to appeal” the decision of the Higher Learning Commission. The Commission, in turn, has extended Mountain State’s accreditation until Dec. 31, 2012 to accommodate the appeal process. Mountain State’s website homepage continues to state that it is not accepting new student applications.

  2. The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation requiring colleges and universities that enroll foreign students to be accredited, per The Chronicle of Higher Education. While I don’t necessarily think this needs to be aimed at just foreign students, I am all for requiring the schools to be accredited in general. What do you think?

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