With the arrival of the 2016 presidential election season colleges and universities have become a major focus. Originally centered on the cost of tuition for public institutions of higher education, the debate has shifted to higher education accreditation including executive action on reforming an accreditation system (governed by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools) the Obama Administration believes is awarding under-performing colleges and universities, many with single digit graduation rates.
According to Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell, there will be a three-part proposal aimed at reforming the education system to include: executive action, potential regulatory reform and legislation to get accreditors more focused on student outcomes.
Accrediting bodies are not government agencies, but to receive federal student aid specific federal criteria must be met. In addition to acceptable graduation rates, the administration wants to ensure that outgoing graduates are equipped with the skills needed to face the challenges of a 21st century economy.
White House officials have expressed frustration with accrediting bodies that remain too inflexible in considering new or innovative ways of learning. Newly instituted programs will be centered on highly-controlled quality standards that will assess both graduation and post-graduation job rates.
Additionally, a bipartisan bill has been proposed by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to create a voluntary, alternative system of accreditation for colleges, universities and other providers of higher education. The Higher Education Innovation Act proposes an accreditation alternative that would focus on an outcomes-based process rather than the current input-focused system that the senators say is more complex. The bill would create a new avenue for access to federal financial aid, including Pell grants. Currently, before being eligible to receive federal financial aid, higher education programs must exist for several years. Under this bill, new educational programs (including non-college providers) that demonstrate positive student outcomes may apply.
The accrediting bodies themselves are also reviewing their accreditation processes and proposing changes that will allow them to evolve with higher education to meet the demands of the modern economy. For example, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), located in Philadelphia, PA, has analyzed its current accreditation process and proposed several changes including a modified accreditation cycle.
To read more, including proposed congressional legislation that would create The National Accreditation Foundation, see The Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education Issue Paper The Need for Accreditation Reform by Robert C. Dickeson.