At the request of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a subcommittee of the department’s advisory board on accreditation will develop a set of legislative recommendations for the 2013 renewal of the Higher Education Act. And though the subcommittee of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity plans to consider how to alter the country’s decentralized system of accreditation, which has been under fire in recent years amid cries for more accountability, it plans to make legislative recommendations on non-accreditation-related matters as well.
The announcement came during the second day of the reconstituted advisory committee’s meeting Thursday, the group’s first in more than two years. The subcommittee members, with their nomination source to NACIQI in parentheses, are as follows:
The subcommittee plans to host a policy forum in February, seeking commentary from the public. Phillips said the subcommittee hopes to have a set of recommendations for Secretary Duncan by December 2011. Phillips framed the subcommittee’s charge in an outline distributed to NACIQI members.
“How well does our current accreditation/recognition system protect the interests of the taxpayer who is underwriting that investment in education?” reads Phillips’s outline. “If we were starting now, would we design this system? How might a system we would design differ from what currently exists?”
The outline touches on a number of specific and somewhat controversial aspects of compliance and quality assurance.
“Should there be common standards for learning outcomes/student achievement (should the rule of construction stand or should there be a set ‘standard’ for student achievement?)” asks Phillips’s outline. “Who should decide those? How should they be measured?”
After Thursday’s meeting, Staples told Inside Higher Ed that the subcommittee was asked by Secretary Duncan “to weigh in on a broader basis” regarding the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and not just on matters related to accreditation.
“We were certainly glad to be asked by the secretary,” Staples said. “He asked us during our training session several months ago. I think it’s just that the department is looking to make use of this body as a way of soliciting public input.… Given the range of expertise on the committee — you have people from the for-profit sector, a lot of distinguished people from the nonprofit sector — I think it’s a group that will have the ability … to shed a light on these issues.”
Considering the entree given to NACIQI by the Education Department and the broad call for legislative recommendations, some observers at Thursday’s meeting expressed their anxiety about the subcommittee’s possible suggestions. Some members of the subcommittee, such as Neal, have made very public calls for the accreditation system to be dismantled and considerably revamped.