Higher Education Groups Seek Flexibility for Accreditors

December 7, 2015

Three major higher education groups on Friday urged the U.S. Department of Education to allow federally recognized accreditors to evaluate colleges differently based on the colleges’ performance.

The goal is to allow colleges with strong student outcomes to face a less intensive review process, which many institutions find to be “long, arduous, expensive and complicated,” the associations wrote in a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. It was signed by the leaders of the American Council on Education, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Association of American Universities.

“Because the current process requires accreditors to treat all institutions the same and spend equal amounts of time on all institutions regardless of performance, that necessarily limits the time accreditors can focus on institutions with weaker outcomes that actually need greater oversight,” they wrote. “Indeed, it is important to keep in mind that some institutions with low records of student success actually may need to be reviewed more closely.”

The groups also published a legal analysis, which argued that nothing in federal law prohibits the Education Department from recognizing an accreditor that varies its approach to evaluating a college based on the college’s characteristics.

Last month, as part of a package of accreditation announcements, the Education Department said it was studying the issue. Duncan instructed department officials to clarify the authority that accreditors have to apply varying levels of scrutiny to different institutions by early next year.

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