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Postsecondary Accreditation Can’t Turn into a Race to the Backside



By: Antoinette Flores, Senior Advisor, Workplace of Postsecondary Schooling

The Division of Schooling (Division) is dedicated to making sure that establishments of upper schooling (establishments) preserve top quality requirements and robust pupil outcomes. As a member of the Federal triad, which below the Larger Schooling Act of 1965 (HEA) requires the Division to work at the side of states and accrediting companies to make sure oversight and accountability of postsecondary establishments, the Division expects this identical dedication from our companions.

“Accreditation-shopping,” the place some establishments search out particular accrediting companies to keep away from accountability, has a protracted historical past, beginning with scandals within the late Nineteen Eighties that rocked the postsecondary panorama. That’s why numerous provisions within the HEA and in Division rules present protections for college students and taxpayers in opposition to this conduct.

The purpose is to forestall a race to the underside in high quality requirements amongst accrediting companies and make sure that establishments can’t swap to an accrediting company with much less rigorous requirements merely to evade accountability from an accrediting company that investigates practices or takes corrective motion in opposition to an establishment. For this objective, the HEA requires the Division to assessment and approve an establishment eligible to take part within the federal assist packages earlier than it will probably swap its accrediting company or add an extra accreditor.

Latest modifications to the accreditation panorama, such because the growth of former regional accreditors to now accredit establishments outdoors their typical geographic boundaries and a brand new regulation in Florida that mandates public establishments to change accrediting companies earlier than their subsequent accreditation cycle, have been complicated to establishments and may have a chilling impact on accrediting companies as they search to successfully do their job. Because of this, the Division has taken a contemporary take a look at the rules and seeks to make clear the method for establishments trying to change accrediting companies.

At the moment, the Division is releasing a number of new steering paperwork to assist inform establishments and accrediting companies about their tasks associated to those points. The brand new steering particulars:

  1. The method that establishments should observe if searching for to change accrediting companies or receive accreditation by a number of companies. This course of requires that establishments get approval from the Division earlier than they submit an utility to a brand new accrediting company.
  2. An inventory of a number of the elements the Division could take into account in evaluating establishments that goal to change accrediting companies. These elements, that are meant to make sure that all establishments are held to excessive requirements, will assess whether or not the change is motivated by a need to enhance institutional high quality or evade rigor or oversight. The Division may even assess whether or not the establishment’s need to vary accreditors is voluntary.
  3. How accrediting companies ought to reveal that they meet the long-standing requirement within the HEA and Division rules that companies have a voluntary membership of establishments to be able to be acknowledged by the Secretary.

These clarifications are meant to make sure that establishments are held to excessive requirements, and that an establishment topic to oversight by its present accrediting company can’t merely search to evade accountability by leaping to a unique accrediting company.

The modifications additionally assist preserve the integrity of the Federal triad and protect the accrediting companies’ position in oversight as meant within the HEA. The Division goals to guard in opposition to a race to the underside and make sure that accreditation stays a voluntary course of, as required by regulation, and that establishments will not be pressured to change in opposition to their will. The Division will proceed to work with establishments and accrediting companies to implement these processes and protocols and to additional guarantee sturdy requirements to higher serve all college students.

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