In the report of ACE's National Task Force on Institutional Accreditation released today, academic leaders urge the higher education community to strengthen and improve the quality and public accountability of the institutional accreditation process.
The report, Assuring Academic Quality in the 21st Century: Self-Regulation in a New Era, considers the central characteristics of accreditation and outlines common criticisms of the process. It then offers six major recommendations for steps colleges, universities and regional accreditors can and should take to ensure accreditation meets its public accountability responsibilities given the enormous diversity of American higher education.
The recommendations are:
- Increase the transparency of accreditation and clearly communicate its results.
- Increase the centrality of evidence about student success and educational quality.
- Take prompt, strong and public action against substandard institutions.
- Adopt a more "risk-sensitive" approach to regional accreditation.
- Seek common terminology, promote cooperation and expand participation.
- Enhance the cost-effectiveness of accreditation.
"Voluntary accreditation has served higher education extremely well for more than a century," said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. "However, the ACE Board of Directors urged the creation of this task force so we could share with the academic community an assessment of the value of voluntary peer review in light of wide-ranging changes in the higher education landscape. As a result of that review, it is clear that action is needed to preserve the best of accreditation's historic approach while ensuring it functions effectively as a guarantor of quality."
The task force, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, met for the first time on May 25, 2011. Co-chaired by University of Richmond (VA) President Edward Ayers and Association of American Universities President Emeritus Robert Berdahl; the membership included presidents and chancellors from public and private, nonprofit and for-profit, two-year and four-year institutions, along with accrediting agency officials and experts on accreditation. The panel solicited input from outside experts on issues such as the quality and extent of student learning, the rigor of state and federal consumer protection and the many new business models for higher education providers.
"It is our hope that accrediting organizations will work with their members to implement changes based on task force recommendations," said Berdahl. "By addressing perceived deficiencies quickly and effectively, we can ensure accreditation remains a meaningful guarantor of academic quality."
ACE, in consultation with members of the task force, plans to issue a follow-up report in 2014 on the progress made on the six recommendations.
"Higher education created accreditation and we are responsible for ensuring it continues to serve its public and private purposes," said Ayers. "This responsibility cannot be taken lightly by academic leaders."
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