Obama’s Accreditation Proposals Surprise Higher-Education Leaders

President Obama didn't mention accreditation in his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening. But in a supplemental document released after the speech, the president made it clear that he is seeking major changes in the accountability system for higher education.

In the middle of the nine-page document, "The President's Plan for a Strong Middle Class and a Strong America," Mr. Obama laid out his broad intent to hold "colleges accountable for cost, value, and quality," including a call to set benchmarks for affordability and student outcomes as criteria for receiving federal student financial aid. Regional and national accreditors are now the primary gatekeepers for access to those dollars.

New benchmarks could be incorporated "into the existing accreditation system," the plan states, or created "by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher-education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results."

Accreditors and other higher-education experts said a direct reference to accreditation by a sitting president was rare. But being on the president's radar isn't necessarily viewed as a positive by accreditors and colleges, which could be in for even greater federal scrutiny.

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THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION

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