No Overhaul of Accreditation

Accrediting agencies that want to preserve their role in determining colleges' eligibility for federal student aid programs should be relieved by the main decision made by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity: the link between accreditation and federal funds is unlikely to be dissolved anytime soon.

But just how much the committee on accreditation, which was charged with the broad task of recommending how the nation's accreditation system should be reshaped when the Higher Education Act is revised in 2013, will suggest changing the status quo was still somewhat unclear after two final days of discussion here. While committee members, under pressure from accreditors and colleges, agreed that the agencies should retain their role as the primary determiners of eligibility for federal financial aid, they still considered — and many supported — a host of other, smaller changes.

The committee's draft report, published in October, presented a series of options and scenarios rather than making concrete recommendations. At its outset, two of three possible recommendations involved reimagining how accreditation works: separating accreditation from the eligibility process for federal student aid, or modifying the link between the two to create an “either/or” system wherein colleges would have to meet baseline criteria established by the government and then could pursue either accreditation or governmental certification.

In laying out the rationale for such a change, the committee argued that accreditors were playing a role to which they are badly suited. “With a federal interest in accreditation standards and processes comes an array of consequences that are neither appropriate nor desirable,” the committee wrote in its draft report. “Among these is the undesired intrusion of the federal government into matters more appropriately assigned to institutions, their own governing bodies, and their academic peers. Also among the consequences is an assignment to an academic peer review enterprise a policing function that it may be neither willing, nor fully competent, to undertake.”

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