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Autonomy of Traditional Accrediting Bodies 'Waning'

For 60-plus years, accrediting bodies have been in charge of making sure U.S. colleges and universities maintain their standards of quality. But some education experts are wondering whether it's time to remake the accreditation process to accommodate changes in student demographics, content delivery and the pace of change that's needed to remain innovative in an evolving labor market.

A new report developed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, its International Quality Group and NORC at the University of Chicago has added to the conversation by examining "emerging approaches" for judging quality in higher education. Among the programs profiled:

As the report noted, some of these approaches focus on ensuring quality for alternative providers of education while others promote ways to improve transparency and public accountability in the quality review process. Almost all of the new models emphasize the importance of student outcomes "rather than institutional and program-level inputs." And nearly all use a third party to provide the oversight or verification or to do the quality review.

The final section of the report suggests that certain resources developed as tools for reviewing institutional data and comparing colleges and universities could also play a role in the quality review process. These include the College Scorecard; accreditor dashboards; and college ranking systems, such as the U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review. For example, the College Scorecard could be used in quality reviews for determining the annual cost of an institution, its graduation rate, the average salary post-graduation and information about student debt levels.

As the report reminded readers, quality reviews are intended to help students and their families compare and contrast education providers "so they can choose high-quality programs that are appropriate to their academic and occupational goals." While the approaches explored in the report take different routes to the challenge, what they ultimately reveal is that the "deference and autonomy" once given to those long-standing accrediting organizations is "waning" in the face of all of the changes taking place in higher ed.

"New Approaches to Judging Quality in Higher Education" is openly available on CHEA website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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