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Accreditation Reform Legislation Announced

OCTOBER 31, 2016

On September 22, 2016, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durban, and Brian Schatz announced that they are introducing the Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act of 2016 that would increase accountability for accreditors and require new standards for student outcomes they use to evaluate colleges and universities.  Warren and Durbin have frequently called for greater accountability in higher education, particularly in the for-profit sector.  But the bill suggests a new focus by consumer advocates on the role of accrediting agencies in providing oversight of colleges and universities.  

The Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act would direct the Department of Education to establish clear student outcome data, require accreditors to respond quickly to both state and federal investigations, add more transparency to accreditation decisions, address conflict-of-interest issues involving accreditors and the colleges they oversee, and give the department more power to punish or terminate failing accreditors, among other measures.

While it remains to be seen how much traction this proposed legislation will get, it is becoming more apparent that accreditation is now being called upon to play a more vigorous public accountability role--to do more to protect students and inform the public.  This is in addition to accreditation's longstanding role in assuring and advancing educational quality, working with institutions and programs.  This bill is part of efforts to provide more direct oversight of accreditation by the federal government, whether through the Congress or the U. S. Department of Education.  

I do not want to see undue interference by the Department of Education, but the federal government spends more than $180 billion a year to support higher education and certainly has the right to ask hard questions and to require more accountability from the accreditation agencies.  Stay tuned to see how this pending bill in the U.S. Senate develops.

Larry J. McKinney
Higher Education Consultant

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