What’s at stake in a possible accreditation overhaul

Education Dive

By Ben Unglesbee

This is the second article in a three-part series on the broader issues at play as higher ed debates proposed new rules governing topics such as online learning and new education models. Check back next week for our final installment, and click here to read our first post.

In a hotel conference room in the nation’s capital, the higher ed world’s gatekeepers were gathering over coffee, tea and bottled water to talk about their work just as the Education Department was getting underway with an attempt to overhaul it on a breadth and scale rarely seen.

Speakers at this year’s meeting of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), in January, often struck an existential note about their role in the higher ed regulatory “triad”: federal and state governments and nonprofit accreditors together tasked with safeguarding educational quality and more than $120 billion in federal student aid spending.

“It’s a dangerous time,” said James Gaudino, president of Central Washington University and a CHEA director, at the event. “Imagine what’s going to happen if we don’t change,” he added, invoking the possibility accreditors could be pushed “out of existence” by for-profit organizations or “quasi-government” entities.

But there is little agreement on the best way forward. Earlier this year, the Ed Department showed its hand with radical proposals that would loosen federal oversight of accreditors. They would also make it easier for new accreditors to come into being, as well as for institutions to merge or undertake dramatic changes and for institutions to outsource potentially all of their academic operations to unaccredited third parties.

At the same time as Betsy DeVos’ Ed Department moves to clear regulatory hurdles and expand innovation, there are plenty of additional critics of the current system of accreditation and federal oversight who would move it in the opposite direction. They want more… (continue reading)