Accreditation Council Discusses ‘New Normal’ at Annual Conference - Higher Education
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Accreditation Council Discusses ‘New Normal’ at Annual Conference

by Bijan C. Bayne

Educators, legislators, and others attending the annual conference of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation this week in Washington, D.C. are addressing numerous issues related to this year’s theme, “The New Normal For Accreditation: Values, Practice & Policy.”

Among the wide-ranging topics to be discussed are:

·         The Future of For-Profit Higher Education State Issues and Accreditation 

·         Accreditors and Employer Engagement: Some Myths Debunked

·         The Current Role of Government and Quality Assurance – Regional Perspectives 

·         Combating Academic Corruption and Promoting Integrity: The Role of Quality Assurance 

·         Are Institutional Autonomy and Social Accountability Mutually Exclusive?

·         The Current Interaction Between Politics, Social Justice and Quality: The Role of Multilateralism

During the opening plenary on Tuesday, Rep. Virginia Foxx R-NC, chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, discussed reauthorization of higher education-related laws and her ideas for changes. She recommended streamlining information for students’ parents and simplifying the student loan process.

Foxx emphasized a need to “advance reforms that are bold, responsible, and meaningful,” calling for “a strong foundation for reform…that will guide the work ahead.” 

Barbara Brittingham, president of the New England Association of Schools & Colleges, Inc. (NEASC), moderated a panel that focused on the conference theme. NEASC accredits and supports improvement of more than 2,000 schools worldwide, from pre-K to the doctoral level.

Brittingham cited quality-assurance practices in the Northeast that focus on the role of trustees, observing competency-based education and student employment.

Martin Kurzweil, director of the Educational Transformation Program for the education research firm Ithaka S+R, said during the session: “We need more comparability in measures used between types of programs and providers, and we need more peer benchmarking, more public reporting of results of accreditation.”

In defining what a “new normal” would be, Kurzweil asked: “How do we be innovative and how do we be accountable? Why do we need to have one grade for something so complicated as the quality of an institution? There needs to be differentiated standards and consequences.”

Ed Klonoski, president of Charter Oak State College, a Connecticut-based online public college, made the case for an end to the six different sets of standards for accrediting U.S. higher education. He suggested that the regional accreditation bodies come together and agree on a single national framework.

“We need one set of standards from accreditors,” Klonoski said. “How can we as colleges show what we do well when we are just given a standard of ‘P’ or ‘F’? Accreditation needs to be broader, more transparent and singular.”

Mary Ellen Patrisko, past president of WASC, which accredits senior colleges in California, brought additional perspective to the panel discussion.

“Consistent language, this is something we have tried to deal with,” she said. “We find it’s easier to adapt with new standards that are coming in, rather than trying to dial back 100 years of existing language.” Accrediting agencies, she noted, “have developed alternative measures on student performance. We know the data isn’t necessarily great when it comes to students like non-traditional students, (and) we have tried to accommodate that.”

At the same session, Bernard Fryshman, acting director of the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools (AARTS), emphasized the need for accrediting bodies to reach into the classroom.

“Numbers are easy to gain, easy to manipulate and easy to report without seeing what’s happening in a classroom,” he said. “Peer review is a human enterprise, not a number. On measuring accountability and student success, students don’t go right into their chosen career after college. Success is not a matter of money earned out of school. I myself am still figuring out what I’m learning.”

In a breakout session titled   “The Groningen Declaration Network and Accreditation”  Anthony McClaran, president of Australia’s higher-ed regulator TEQSA, said accrediting bodies should concern themselves with addressing “widespread” academic fraud. “If you think you don’t have a problem with academic fraud,” he said, “then you just haven’t found it yet.”

CHEA is a national advocate and institutional voice for self-regulation of academic quality through accreditation. An association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities, CHEA recognizes 60 institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations. The federal government places accreditation requirements on universities when determining their eligibility for grants or loans. States also have accreditation standards regarding student funding and in awarding professional licenses to graduates in certain funds. There are 19 recognized private institutional accrediting organizations in the U.S.

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