The Council for Higher Education Accreditation CHEA Initiative is a national, multi-year discussion on the future of accreditation. The Initiative is centered around two goals: (1) further enhancing the strength and credibility of this important peer review and self-regulation model to assure academic quality and (2) rethinking the federal government–accreditation relationship such that higher education accountability to the public is sustained while institutions retain primary responsibility for judgments about academic quality.
The Initiative national dialogue began in September 2008. A number of meetings were held to discuss its goals with all major constituents with which CHEA works: institutions, accreditors, associations, government officials and the public. CHEA also commissioned six white papers that were presented at two National Accreditation Forums held in September 2008 and January 2009.
Here are some examples of the ideas and comments from the various meetings and in the white papers that have been presented and discussed. They are intended to provide a flavor of the conversations that have taken place to date and do not suggest any specific avenues or direction to date.
Goal 1: Further Enhancing the Strength and Credibility of Accreditation
In general, the comments related to this goal cluster around respect and regard for the current role of accreditation, while expressing interest in taking additional steps to buttress peer review and self-regulation through addressing the current climate of accountability and public concern about quality, affordability and access to higher education. Comments focused on a need for some change in accreditation practice rather than not taking any action at all.
- "...credibility is the lifeblood of accreditation..." (January 2009 Forum)
- "We've never been needed more." (December 2008 Accreditor Meeting)
- "...the level of confidence in accreditation within the academic community has grown." (January 2009 Forum)
- "Think about helping others understand why self-regulation is better for students." (December 2008 Accreditor Meeting)
- "A more realistic framework for accreditation would seem to be one based on the types and levels of education...sector accreditation." (September 2008 Forum)
- "The challenge is making the case for value-added." (December 2008 Accreditor Meeting)
- "In the recent past, accreditation has been tried in several public tribunals and found wanting." (January 2009 Forum)
- "We don't talk about definitions of quality enough." (December 2008 Accreditor Meeting)
- "Accreditation has the capacity to change in response to changing circumstances..." (January 2009 Forum)
- "What counts as evidence that what is accredited is high quality?" (December 2008 Accreditor Meeting)
- "...it should be clear to the accreditation and higher education communities that a new model for quality assurance is needed." (January 2009 Forum)
Goal 2: Rethinking the Federal Government-Accreditation Relationship
In general, the comments cluster around maintaining – not eliminating – the public-private partnership between accreditation and government, acknowledging that higher education must be accountable for its use of federal funds but, at the same time, working to assure that institutional leadership and judgment in the academic arena be preserved:
- "There is no way of ducking the accountability argument." (September 2008 Forum)
- "The nation is in danger of losing independent higher education." (January 2009 Forum)
- "...both accreditation and government regulation are here to stay." (September 2008 Forum)
- "What does federal review have to do with the quality of accreditation? This is an open question." (December 2008 Accreditor Meeting)
- "It is hard to imagine the achievement [of a new balance between self-regulation and government oversight] without a fundamental restructuring of the accreditation–federal government relationship." (January 2009 Forum)
- "The federal government is not going to withdraw from regulation of higher education." (September 2008 Forum)
- "Distinguish between accreditation and regulation. We're better at accreditation." (December 2008 Accreditor Meeting)
- "They [some in higher education] do not connect the dots between accreditation and the autonomy of higher education." (September 2008 Forum)
- "Part of the solution lies in more clearly defining the regulatory relationship between the universities and governments." (September 2008 Forum)
- "Accreditation is held accountable in different ways by different audiences." December 2008 Accreditor Meeting)
- "If this administration wishes to seek change to improve the quality of education...[it can be encouraged] to abandon efforts at more government regulation...and to embrace the principles of freedom and self-sufficiency as worthy aspirations of our young...." (January 2009 Forum)
February 2009 and Beyond: Next Steps
CHEA will host a number of regional roundtables in various cities to continue the discussion of the future of accreditation. We are particularly interested in the participation of chief executive officers and chief academic officers. Additional meetings will be held with the accrediting community and the CHEA 2009 Summer Workshop will be devoted to the CHEA Initiative.
Here are some of the issues and questions around which this discussions might be focused.
- What needs to be done to address current calls for greater accountability while preserving peer review and self-regulation and attendant values: institutional mission, institutional autonomy and academic freedom?
- What are the key elements of a persuasive argument for the value of peer review and self-regulation in the current climate?
- How do we fashion a compelling case for institutional leadership buttressed by peer review and self-regulation?
- How do we describe an appropriate level of federal government involvement that does not diminish the role of institutions in setting academic policy?
- What are some ways to refocus or recalibrate the federal review of accreditation such that accreditors and institutions are accountable, yet preserve and enhance institutional leadership in academic areas?
- How might the community constructively examine suggested areas for change such as levels or gradations of accredited status, sector accreditation or core standards for accreditation?
- What are ways that accreditors and the academy can bring additional visibility to accreditation so that the public easily understands it and institutions and accreditors are comfortable?
Would you participate in this important discussion about the future of accreditation by offering your comments or suggestions about its role and relationship with government? Please send your comments and suggestions to CHEA at CHEAInitiative@chea.org.