Executive order tightens accreditation requirements

Education Department to launch website to increase process transparency

New regulations for accreditors requiring for uniform reporting and a streamlined approval process were announced by the Education Department on Friday.

The changes come via an executive order laying out President Obama's priorities for accreditation—and come as Congress sits on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Background: Obama administration plans executive action on accreditation reform

The changes essentially consolidate information already available to the public, Eric Kelderman reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Under the new regulations, the department will:

  • Require some high-risk schools to have reserve funds;
  • Require accreditors to make final decision documents publicly available;
  • Publish each accreditor's standards;
  • Review student performance when renewing accreditors' recognition; and
  • Publish accreditors' letters to institutions explaining why the schools are being placed on probation.

The department will also launch a website with information on schools under each accreditor. Much of that data is also available on College Scorecard, such as average net price, student retention rates, and median debt loads.

"The only thing that I see significant here is that the department has provided us with some very good data," says Michael Poliakoff, VP for policy at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. "What accreditation needs is a reinvention, not a series of tweaks."

A battle has been brewing between the federal government and accreditors. Senators took the regulatory bodies to task in June for failing to shut down for-profit Corinthian Colleges, Inc.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan also criticized accreditors over the summer for setting their standards too low.

Federal officials say they want Congress to get rid of a legal provision that prevents the government from creating standards for accreditors to enforce. But Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), who leads the reauthorization effort, rejected that initiative.

Some within the industry say they are not optimistic about further reform.

"Congress has shown a complete unwillingness to require anything meaningful of accreditors," says Amy Laitinen, New America's director for higher education. "For all of Senator Alexander's talk about accreditation reform, his voting record shows that he's willing to put institutional and accreditor interests above those of students" (Kelderman, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/6).

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