Getting Their Act(ion)s Together

Career College Central summary:

  • An almost countless number of ideas for revamping accreditation have pinballed around Washington in recent years, as higher education's system of peer-reviewed institutional accountability has been bashed on the one hand for lax oversight of poor-performing institutions and on the other for overregulation and quashing innovation. Many of the ideas are either impractical (because they would cost too much to replace the volunteer-dependent system that is in place now) or politically unfeasible (because they would entail even more government involvement).
  • But some consensus has developed around the notion that at a time when many colleges operate nationally, rendering geographic boundaries less meaningful, the existence of seven regional accreditors that operate independently (and sometimes quite differently) makes less and less sense. Are colleges and universities in Maine and California and Louisiana (and what they do) really so different that they should be judged using different criteria, standards and processes by the accreditors in their regions?
  • The regional accreditors and many college officials continue to believe that the distinctions are meaningful enough that the agencies should remain independent. But they also recognize that wholesale differences among them are hard to justify — and Wednesday they took a significant (and probably unprecedented) step toward beginning to eliminate them.
  • The Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions, which has historically coordinated the work of the agencies only loosely, on Wednesday announced that the seven regional bodies would adopt a common set of terms to describe the actions they take toward their member institutions, and that the definitions of those terms would better-align the procedures they use to make those decisions. (They are not yet creating common approaches to what they punish colleges for.)
  • Under this common framework, it will mean the same thing for a college to receive a warning or be placed on probation or face a "show cause" order whether it is an Oregon university overseen by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities or a New Hampshire community college accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

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