- Through executive action, the Obama administration has imposed new requirements on accreditors — though the changes are relatively minor as Congress needs to agree on more major changes through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the changes will consolidate data that accreditors report, much of which is already public, making it easier to find out how their institutions do when it comes to student outcomes.
- The administration has also clarified the information accreditors must report and created a more streamlined process of accreditation for some schools, saying, too, that it will consider student outcomes when deciding whether to renew an accreditor's federal recognition.
Accrediting agencies have been criticized from multiple angles in the push for reform. Among those critiques: They are too rigid, stifling innovation at schools, and they are too accommodating of institutions' own standards for success, allowing schools like Corinthian Colleges to go bankrupt with their accreditation intact. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called accreditors watchdogs that don’t bark, and Sen. Marco Rubio has called the system a "cartel."
The system needs a makeover simply because the role of accreditors has changed significantly since they were created as quality control organizations by groups of colleges and universities. Now the government relies on them to be the gatekeepers for billions in federal funds. With several options on the table during reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the question is whether Congress can agree on any of them.