Why accreditors should focus on student outcomes
- The Center for American Progress issued a report outlining the standards of accreditation that regional reviewing agencies use to determine the effectiveness of schools, colleges and universities. The report authors wrote that the lack of emphasis on student outcomes creates incentives for institutions to avoid concern about post-graduate job placement, loan default rates, graduation rates and other areas that provide real-world determinations of how well students receive and apply education.
- Researchers said that in comparison to national accreditors, which can drill down to individual program assessment, regional agencies do not conduct reviews with enough regularity or with sufficient rigor to determine effectiveness versus potential fraud from institutions. This leads to mounting questions from state and federal governments that depend on accreditors to validate student loan and grant investment for millions of students who may never be pushed by their institutions to graduate.
- The report recommended that accreditors consider collecting student outcome data, demand accountability for performance benchmarks and support the formation of a federal student data system.
It is reasonable to expect accrediting agencies to emphasize student outcomes in measuring institutional effectiveness. But the composition of accrediting agencies and their bylaws are not designed to judge the quality of the academic enterprise, but rather, that the construct of an academic enterprise is in place.
State and federal governments do not require businesses of any size to make a certain amount of money to qualify as operationally sound, and professional licensing renewal standards do not use customer reviews or complaints as a metric of ethical or operational integrity. This is the same philosophy for accrediting agencies, which are comprised and funded by the institutions they measure, and their recommendations are made by officials who do not want uneven or stringent reviews of their institutions.
In 2017, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) advocated for new standards of accreditation for non-traditional institutions to receive federal student aid disbursements. Placing pressure on traditional campuses to follow business practices that most governments don't require of other industries may potentially make institutions more accountable, but it could also open the door for institutions to change their enrollment practices, academic programming and professional training processes.
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