Firmer Proposals on Accreditation

Sustain the link between accreditation and access to federal financial aid.

Set a national minimum standard for states to follow in ensuring consumer protection in higher education.

Consider structuring accreditation so that it is judged based on institution type or mission rather than geography, and so that accreditors can more easily distinguish between colleges of varying quality.

Define a common set of data that the federal government would collect and share with accreditors, both to minimize reporting burden and to assure consistency. The data might include licensure, job placement and completion data — the latter collected "through a privacy-protected national unit record system."

Those are among the recommendations contained in a second draft of the report that the U.S. Education Department's advisory committee on accreditation is preparing for Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The draft, which was circulated among the panel's members last month (after a public meeting in December) and obtained by Inside Higher Ed, goes significantly further than last fall's first draft in endorsing specific changes to the U.S. system for assuring higher education quality and protecting students and taxpayers. The previous draft primarily listed many possible approaches and generally declined to pick and choose among them.

But the new version still stops well short of prescribing a clear vision for how the complex and multifaceted system should work, and leaves many questions undecided.

It answers one of the most fundamental questions unequivocally, though, rejecting arguments (made most strongly by one of the panel's members, Anne Neal) that accreditation should no longer be the main gatekeeper for colleges to gain access to federal financial aid funds.

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