I am a long time proponent of the higher education peer review system that assures us of the quality and integrity of our educational offerings. During my career, I have been involved with multiple accreditations and have served on review committees for a number of accrediting agencies, specialized as well as regional. My feeling is that the accreditation process has gotten substantially better over time by being much more focused on the outcome measures.
A recent example of how well the process works was the Middle States Committee on Periodic Review Reports meeting that I attended at the end of October. The committee was composed of multiple mid-cycle reviewers as well as professional staff from the regional accrediting agency. Every one of the reviewers was well prepared, both serving academic leaders to those who entered higher education administration much more recently. All of the reports submitted by the institutions being reviewed provided in-depth analyses of where the schools stood. Not every school was perfect, and some were clearly works in progress, but every school seemed to understand the importance of the process. All the staff members from the regional accrediting agency were highly knowledgeable about the standards as well as the process. This was a very impressive meeting.
Yet, even though the system works well and the process is very helpful, there seems to be a lack of willingness on the part of a significant number of higher education administrators, especially senior administrators, to be fully involved in the process, other than when their home institution is being evaluated. Very few of my colleagues from institutions across the country take the time to get involved and give back to preserve a system that serves us all well.
As government agencies continue to try to exert influence over the world of higher education, a strong self-monitoring system may be our most effective defense. All of us in higher education administration should look to get involved in this area and volunteer to do some of the necessary work. If not every year, at least every two or three years, we need to stand up when the opportunity arises. Accreditation and monitoring will not disappear or even diminish but we can help make sure it is done with a real understanding of the issues and of the world of higher education.
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