Is the Accreditation Process About to Change?

December 16, 2015 Kristen Hicks

Some days, worrying about accreditation just feels like one more thing you have to deal with. Yet you know that each time the accrediting board provides you with its approval, the metaphorical badge your college earns is important. It lets your potential students know that the education your school offers is quality and worth the investment they’re considering making. At least that’s the idea behind it all.

Not everyone agrees that the accrediting boards are doing a good job of fulfilling their mission. The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed calling accrediting boards a “cartel.” Meanwhile, a piece in Forbes makes the case that accreditors focus on the wrong values, pointing out that usually when schools lose accreditation status, it’s because of financial issues rather than the quality of courses they offer.

The media isn’t the only avenue where these conversations are happening.

The Rubio-Bennet Bill

Much of the power that accrediting boards have now is due to their ties to government funding. In order for a school’s students to qualify for government aid, the college must be accredited. Since 45% of undergraduate student financial aid comes from the federal government, accreditation status has a very big influence on a school’s bottom line.

Recognizing this, Senators Michael Bennet and Marco Rubio proposed a bill in October calling for changes in how the accreditation process works. The Higher Education Innovation Act would shift the focus of accreditation to learning outcomes, such as how many students graduate, get jobs, and are able to pay off their student loans on time. The senators argue that current accreditation standards are far too focused on inputs and process, when student success should be the main goal.

The Department of Education Calls for Transparency

The Senate isn’t the only governmental body concerned about accreditation. In early November, the Department of Education released an agenda for bringing greater transparency to the accreditation process. It called for each accreditor to publish its standards for student learning outcomes and important student outcome measures for each institution.

Like the Senate bill, the DOE insists on giving more attention to results that can be shown with data than the efforts and structure colleges have in place to get those results. Since the DOE has direct power over much of the funding institutions of higher education receive, these recommendations help outline a clear definition of what’s to come.

What This Means for Colleges

Most of these calls for reform are in the early stages, so how they’ll play out for accreditation organizations and institutions of higher education remains to be seen. You can almost certainly expect to see a greater emphasis on student learning outcomes and results that you can demonstrate with data in accreditation standards in the near future.

That will require a transition, but adapting to new accreditation standards is nothing new for colleges, and these changes are aimed at helping you provide greater value to your students, which is the biggest goal every institution of higher education must have. You can increase your odds of producing improved outcomes for your students after graduation by focusing on day-to-day learning outcomes. ExamSoft’s exam analytics create the kind of data that accrediting boards appreciate and that faculty can use to provide more focused, personalized instruction to students.

If you’re struggling to figure out how to collect the necessary data and make the right moves to improve your student learning outcomes in the days ahead, we’d be happy to talk with you about your concerns and offer some possible solutions. Just get in touch.

 

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