NAICU Washington Update

Department of Education Issues Guidance on Differentiated Accreditation

May 02, 2016

The Department of Education recently sent guidance to federally-recognized accrediting agencies to encourage the use of differentiated institutional and programmatic review, including a particular emphasis on student achievement metrics.

Specifically, the guidance provides clarity on two areas: (1) the existing flexibility that accreditors have to vary processes, investment of resources, and requirements of schools or programs; and (2) the statutory and regulatory requirements for measuring an accrediting agency’s effectiveness to maximize the use of this flexibility to enhance quality and accountability.

The guidance reinforces the policy that an accrediting agency may focus its resources more heavily toward the differentiated review of specific institutions and programs. Citing its 2009 program integrity regulations, the Department calls for accreditors to specifically focus on factors “such as size of the institution, the number of students, the nature of the programs offered, past history, and other knowledge the agency has about the institution or program” when conducting accreditation reviews. The guidance further emphasizes the necessity of measuring student achievement as an obligation of all accrediting agencies. According to the Department, such student achievement metrics could include student retention rates, graduation rates, student learning outcomes, job placement, cohort default rates, institutional financial responsibility scores, or other metrics to determine the level of resources to be devoted to differentiated review processes.

Accreditors will also be evaluated by the Department on whether they are effectively implementing differentiated review processes. In expanding on its criteria for judging accreditor effectiveness, the guidance emphasizes that accrediting agencies must have clear standards for success in student achievement with a particular focus on completion and job placement rates. The guidance also encourages regional accreditors, in particular, to “consider adding objective, transparent, comparable, and actionable quantitative metrics” when evaluating student learning achievement.

This most recent guidance is part of a larger series of accreditation reforms published by the Department since November 2015. Further guidance concerning accreditor terminology is expected to be released later this spring.

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