Accreditation, according to Geiger (129), is a non-governmental mechanism established by universities and colleges to ensure, review, and improve educational qualifications in the United States. It is viewed as a peer-review process intended to verify and acknowledge that a curriculum or an entity within an institution satisfies a series of designed criteria and offers further confirmation of long-term excellence. Accreditation, according to universities and schools, helps and shapes the ongoing quality improvement of their academic programs and organizations. Nevertheless, certification seems like it serves dual purposes as a federal fund “gatekeeper” and a procedure for the enhancement of colleges. The question is whether accreditation has two dissenting masters in government and universities. For colleges, the aim of accreditation has been self-enhancement, while in the federal government it serves as quality management for its massive investment in higher education. Currently, several policymakers are posing significant questions regarding the efficiency of accreditation quality assurance and “gatekeeping” role (Fritschler). Taxpayers and students all over the country are concerned with the value, quality, and cost of the higher education in the United States. That being said, reform and redesign accreditation are required to reinforce the quality of universities and colleges, promote innovation and competition, and give accountability to taxpayers and government stakeholders.
Geiger (129) posits that for colleges to be accredited together with a particular program, they apply to joint private membership associations termed as accrediting agencies. These bodies working together with their membership programs or institutions formulate criteria and standards that make higher learning. A journey for programs or institutions looking for reaffirming or seeking accreditation start with programs or institutions completing a self-research study that includes internal review and evaluation of the organization’s mission, vision, educational performance and goals with respect to standards laid down by the accrediting agency. Peer review is also done. Faculty and administrative colleagues from other universities and colleges evaluate and examine the college or academic program against the standards set by the agency and make the recommendation concerning the award of accredited status.
The Role and Purpose of Accreditation
Accreditation assists and guide colleges in their pursuit to quality enhancement of their academic program and institutions. Accreditation peer-review procedure gives recommendation, insight, and feedback on objectives, plans and policies to accomplish educational missions and improve academic quality. Geiger (129) asserts that the public and federal government depends on accreditation for academic quality assurance. The federal government established federal aids programs in the form of loans and grants for college and veteran students undertaking higher education. The federal government came up with a system or a mechanism to guarantee the quality of universities where students are utilizing federal resources. To achieve this primary goal, the government adopted the existing system of accreditation. This system enables the government to delegate the responsibility of quality guarantee and make sure students are utilizing federal resources at legitimate, credible and quality colleges (Geiger 129).
Issues that Need to be Addressed
Several observers and studies indicate that the United States has best universities and colleges in the globe. Nevertheless, that reputable status is being put at danger by upsetting examples of deficiencies in student success, academic consistency, and academic instruction. In the article Student Aid Overview: Fiscal Year 201 6 Budget Request (2015), the structure for assessments and judgment of quality and student learning for approximately 6,000 different colleges differs incredibly leading to difficulties in comparing results across institutions. For instance, evaluation of students learning and achievement at St. John’s College where education is based on the Great Books programs would not be compared with Nashville’s auto diesel college.
According to Arum and Roksa (30), students have made the little gain in analytical reasoning, critical thinking and other expertise trained in college. The study showed that 36% of students did not illustrate any substantial enhancement in learning over a period of four years in college. Also, 32% of student in every semester or term they did not pursue a course having more than 40 pages of reading assigned per week. Colleges lack engagement and objectivity (Arum and Roksa 30).
According to the American Institute for Research (AIR), a high number of college students graduate without basic skills. Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) illustrated that student study half of the time the faculty expect them they should (Baer, Cook, and Baldi). Results showed that faculty anticipates students to study 6 hours every week for a single unit, but students indicate studying less than 4 hours per week. Accreditation is a well-tested and highly successful system of education quality enhancement and quality assurance as per Council for Higher Education Accreditation. However, some of the examples mentioned above were captured in the United States accredited universities and colleges.
Accreditation design and structure is often described as resistant to change and anti-competitive. Critics of certification indicate that the system inhibits innovatively and restrict new institution of higher education from joining the market. It continually favors and protects incumbents with set high standards for entry. In the past few years, there has been an upcoming interest in non-college provider of higher education. These institutions train and teach students, but they do not mainly look or seems like traditional universities and colleges. They develop a new category of knowledge sources, and they can appear in different sizes and shapes.
Accrediting bodies looking for continued and initial identification by the United States Secretary of Education some instances undergo a review procedure that can be influenced by both bureaucracy and politics. The primary object of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity is to advise the Secretary of Education concerning accreditation and give the recommendation regarding the standards governing the accrediting agencies (Studley). It also recommends whether the body should be identified as a dependable agency concerning quality education. The NACIQI is made up of 18 people each serving a term of six years. The expertise and background of these members must include knowledge and experience of higher educational governance and accreditation. The House of Representatives, Senate and Secretary each name six members. Congressional representatives are evenly chosen between majority and minority parties. The responsibility of NACIQI can be susceptible to administration attempts irrespective of the political party to pass a policy agenda. For instance, they can consider changing identification criterion in student learning outcome and achievement without an approval of Congress. Accreditors also encounter uneven and inconsistent application of agency recognition and regulations measure by Department of Education employees. The efficiency of the NACIQI can be weakened when members have little say and input over an accrediting body identification review (Studley).
According Council for Higher Education Accreditation, many universities, and colleges perceive accreditation as a burdensome, costly and in several instances as an overly-bureaucratic attempt with slight marginal advantages rendered to the institution. Accreditation review mainly needs preparation of documentation and ream of paperwork by colleges to table evidence accomplishing accreditation requirement including illustrating adherence to federal regulations. Association of America Universities indicated that over the past decade informal study of its institutions’ accreditation appraisals have become increasingly expensive and time consuming for staff and administrators. They showed that single institution approximately incurred an expense of $1 million. A research survey carried out by Council for Higher Education Accreditation stated that very little common information is needed by all accreditors. Hence, adding undue burden to colleges with every accreditor body demanding distinct types of data and volumes. Also, accreditors request unnecessary, outdated and unrelated information to institution quality and student success.
Currently, the federal government participation in accreditation process has changed the 10-28 pages of law compliance to approximately 88 pages of sub-regulatory direction which comprise almost 93 distinct standards that accreditors must adhere when evaluating institutional quality. Freeing accreditation duties from the federal government duplicative, misguided and burdensome regulations probably might restore accreditation back to quality enhancement of institutions (“American Council of Education”). Education sector recognition procedure may also then be streamlined and refocused to address vital issues such as student achievement and learning.
Federal criteria and regulation have an impact of requiring accreditation bodies to hold every institution responsible with respect to information of accreditation criterions. This implies that the same detailed review is needed of all colleges despite the fact that institution has few historical weaknesses or issues in comparison with colleges that have a history of struggling with performance. Institutions should not be allowed to have a free pass but have differentiated reviews to enable accreditors to focus on quality assurance.
Lack of gradation or distinction, make accreditation standards not to be aspirational. Accreditors’ bodies make a decision whether an institution does or does not attaint accreditation standards (Council for Higher Education Accreditation). Even equivalent colleges standards vary dramatically, although all institutions are given the same accredited stamp authorization. Distinctions with accreditation could comprise variations such as accredited with distinction or accredited and meets the required standards. These distinctions have the ability to incentivize colleges to make every effort for amplified quality and performance.
According to “American Council of Education,” the best resolution is to cease the influential gatekeeping connection between accreditation and federal financial aid. This step will make accreditation return to its historical and primary responsibility; peer-review institutions focusing on education quality enhancement without federal government intrusion and enforcement. Promoting competition in higher education through breaking down accrediting and regulatory barriers to entry present a challenge to the education status quo, fuel new delivery techniques of education and drive cost down.
The research study is indispensable to the education sector and other committees of education in an attempt to enhance and improve student success and academic quality at colleges. Accreditation should refocus on education quality; allow flexibility and gradation in accreditation reviews. The relationship between colleges’ admissibility for federal student assistance and certification should not exist. Also, accreditation should be redesigned to encourage innovation and competition in higher education, and accrediting bodies should be free and independent from politics.
American Council of Education. Assuring Academic Quality in the 21st Century: Self-Regulation in a New Era, 2012, pp. 1-52. 8 Feb. 2017, http://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/Accreditation-TaskForce-revised-070512.pdf.
Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
Baer, Justin D., Andrea L. Cook, and Stephane Baldi. The Literacy of America’s College Students. The National Survey of America’s College Students, 2006, pp. 1-56. 9 Feb. 2017, http://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/The20Literacy20of20Americas20College20Students_final20report_0.pdf.
Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Presidential Perspectives on Accreditation: A Report of the CHEA Presidents Project, 2006, pp. 1-24. 13 Feb. 2017, http://www.chea.org/pdf/CHEAMonograph_Apr06.pdf.
Fritschler, Lee. Accreditation’s Dilemma: Serving Two Masters – Universities And Governments. Council for Higher Education Accreditation, 2008, pp. 1-18. 8 Feb. 2017, http://www.chea.org/About/NAF/Fritschler.pdf.
Geiger, Roger L. Curriculum, Accreditation, and Coming of Age of Higher Education. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2009.
Studley, Jamien ne S. Report of the Meeting National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, 2012, pp. 1-22. 8 Feb. 2017, https://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/naciqi-dir/2012-fall/f2012report.pdf.
“Student Aid Overview: Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request.” Department of Education, 2015, pp. 1-16. 9 Feb. 2017. https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget16/justifications/o-sao.pdf.