NAICU Washington Update

Spotlight on Accreditation

December 17, 2013

Accreditation was the focus of two important committees this month. In the Senate, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on accreditation while, simultaneously, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) was hearing testimony about an institution’s accreditation being withdrawn.

Senate HELP Committee Hearing

Continuing its preparation for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the Senate HELP Committee turned its attention to accreditation in a December 12 hearing titled Accreditation as Quality Assurance: Meeting the Needs of 21st Century Learning.

In general, the witnesses reaffirmed the value of accreditation and indicated that, while improvements would be in order, there is not a pressing need to make fundamental changes in the current system. Among the changes put forward were calls for greater transparency, an increased focus on outcomes, and risk-adjusted reviews.

Noting that accreditation is often cited as a barrier to innovation, Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) expressed interest in finding a “way forward” to encourage innovation without wasting tax dollars on unproven programs.

Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) questioned whether the federal government has “overstepped” its bounds in dealing with accreditation and requested recommendations for requirements that could be removed.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) suggested that it should be possible to identify specific indicators such as graduation or default rates that could serve as “bright lines,” below which an institution would lose its accreditation. This suggestion is reminiscent of accreditation discussions leading up to the most recent HEA reauthorization in 2008. [See December 18, 2006, Week in Review.]

Members of the committee also questioned whether the relatively small number of institutions that have lost accreditation indicates a lack of rigor in the process. In responding, witnesses pointed out that the less draconian steps taken by accreditors to force institutions to address deficiencies were a better place to look in evaluating the effectiveness of the accreditation process.


In the meantime, NACIQI members were on that same day getting a first-hand view of community reaction in a situation where an accreditor does withdraw accreditation from an institution. Approximately two dozen individuals testified before the committee to protest the withdrawal of accreditation from City College of San Francisco CCSF. Its accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges had revoked CCSF’s accreditation earlier this year.

The advisory committee announced plans to offer additional advice to Education Secretary Arne Duncan regarding the HEA reauthorization. At the Secretary’s request the committee had submitted a series of recommendations in June 2012. In remarks before the panel, outgoing Undersecretary Martha Kanter encouraged the group to take a fresh look at those recommendations and submit additional proposals to the Secretary.

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