Why CHEA? What gives CHEA the right to play a major role in American higher education? CHEA fully realizes and accepts the challenge that it must be useful to the accrediting associations, the higher education institutions, and the general public. The return on the investment in CHEA is always an appropriate issue for CHEA.
The mission of CHEA is to serve the general public, higher education institutions, and the accrediting associations. CHEA's goal is to bring added value in three ways.
CHEA recognition helps demonstrates accountability of the accreditation process. Accrediting associations must be willing to have their methods of accrediting institutions and academic programs judged by an external organization such as CHEA to gain trust and credibility in the higher education community and larger public.
The purpose of the CHEA recognition of accrediting associations is to strengthen the quality and content of voluntary non- governmental accreditation in collegiate higher education. It complements rather than competes with the governmental recognition of accreditation that is practiced by the U. S. Department of Education. Whereas the governmental process establishes those accrediting agencies which meet the government's threshold standards of quality for purposes of participating in federal programs, the CHEA process is designed to improve the quality of accreditation through the identification of best practices, the use of research about assessment and accountability, and through dialogue with institutional leadership in a collegial process.
If accreditation is a collegial process, should not the members of the accreditation community be the model for self-regulation? The self-governing system of peer review and evaluation requires accountability of all partners in the process. The accrediting community in higher education will enhance its own integrity and credibility if it supports an organization established for greater collaboration, cooperation, and consultation among the members of the accrediting community. It is an opportunity for the accreditation community to reaffirm its roles of accountability, assessment, and academic quality, and to join forces with other communities, especially the higher education community.
CHEA desires to make the accreditation process more visible and central to higher education. CHEA's goal is to be a major spokesperson for the accrediting community, publicizing its value and usefulness. In the current climate of increased scrutiny and calls for accountability, CHEA expects to be the voice for the virtues of accreditation in public discourse, debate, and policy-making. Full participation from those engaged in private accreditation will enhance CHEA's ability to be a strong advocate for accreditation. CHEA will work closely with other higher education associations during the next year as the higher education community consults with members of Congress and the Department of Education in the 1997 Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
CHEA will take a leadership role in improving the usefulness of accreditation throught education, experimentation, and staff development. CHEA will work with accrediting associations and higher education institutions to make the accreditation process more streamlined, salient, and central to the academic programs and thus, more useful in their continuous improvement. CHEA will serve as a coordinating organization in bringing together all members of the accrediting and higher education community. It will be a meeting place to provide forums and workshops for sharing, promoting and advocating "best practices" of accreditation, facilitate discussions about appropriate accreditation strategies across types of institutions and programs, and establish electronic modes (e.g. www) for greater dissemination and dialogue of issues and information about accreditation. CHEA will foster innovation in the practice of accreditation by examining current policies and practices for their efficiency, effectiveness, and utility in providing feedback to on-going campus evaluative mechanisms and by promoting and sponsoring research and systematic evaluation of accreditation. CHEA will explore ways accreditation can be applied to emerging developments such as distance learning and international education and encourage new approaches to assessing student learning. It will foster continuous evaluation and review at the local institutional and program level. Finally, CHEA will monitor and mediate differences among the associations and universities.
In sum, accreditation, as a collegial, self-regulating process, represents an uniquely American approach to quality assurance in higher education. Moreover, it has been an effective means for faculty in higher education to learn from their peers and colleagues to improve their educational programs. CHEA views itself as a pivotal educational meeting place-actual and virtual-for all participants of the accrediting and higher education community. CHEA desires to be an inclusive place, advocating diversity of mission and quality in both the accreditation process and higher education. It stresses standards without undue standardization, innovation, a focus on academic quality and achievement, and utility of the evaluative process to continuous academic improvement as well as public accountability.