Report: Give employers more say in higher ed accreditation

Authors aim to close the skills gap

Employers should have more of a voice in higher education accreditations, according to a draft report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and USA Funds last week.

The organizations argued that change—such as increasing employer involvement in the current government accreditation process or creating a discrete, parallel process—would help to close the skills gap.

"We argue that there is a need for a different approach that would establish a voluntary, employer-driven talent supplier recognition and certification system, one that can complement the existing accreditation system and be used to improve government-supported quality assurance systems over time," the report states.

The report also argued for a requirement that would make institutions declare whether their missions include career preparation or workforce readiness and include proof of their progress toward those goals.

The authors of the report recognized that employers do not directly play a role in higher education's internal operations, and that it may be difficult to change an established accreditation system. So they recommended creating a separate one for themselves as well. The new model would take a multilayered approach: a first level would require basic skills such as teamwork and communication, while additional industry-specific levels would require more technical competency.

This system would "include the full range of education and workforce partners that could become suppliers of talent throughout the world, including accredited higher education providers." But the authors suggested tackling STEM fields first.

Do employers really need a bigger role?

Some industry experts say that while it is important to focus on the skills gap, competency-based education already exists as a channel for employers and higher education to collaborate.

"Abandoning the established mechanism is probably a mistake," Peter Ewell, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, tells Inside Higher Ed.

The problem may lie in employers not being specific enough about what they need, says Dane Linn, VP for the Business Roundtable. Sometimes job descriptions are outdated, he says.

Higher education accreditation processes have been under scrutiny in recent years. In the past two years, an advisory panel recommended the Education Department make significant changes, a Senate committee hearing slammed the status quo, and the White House issued an executive action on the matter (Fain, Inside Higher Ed, 1/28).

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