ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Accreditors Relegate Trustees to “Basic” Role

January 28, 2014 by Armand B. Alacbay

Proponents of the higher education accreditation system as it exists today argue that despite a nationwide 4-year graduation rate of under 40 percent, a systemic overhaul to the system isn’t necessary because accreditors continue to refine their standards.  However, if the latest standards issued by one of the country’s largest regional accreditors are any indication, students will continue to be on the losing end of a failed accreditation system.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s proposed criteria for accreditation seem more concerned with dictating norms of institutional governance than on ensuring that students can obtain an affordable, high-quality education.  Rather than allowing trustees to carry out their fiduciary policymaking duties, in Middle States’ model of governance, a governing board’s “primary responsibility [is] to the accredited institution,” and trustees should play a mere “basic” role in financial affairs.  Meanwhile, the accreditor’s standards encourage skyrocketing tuition costs by focusing on spending inputs (such as minimum staffing requirements and an emphasis on providing “support of scholarly inquiry and creative activity” to faculty), rather than outcomes for students—evidenced by the failure to require anything resembling an objective, nationally-normed assessment of student learning.

Middle States’ draft standards threaten the institutional autonomy that has allowed America’s colleges and universities to become preeminent, and reflect exactly what’s wrong with higher education accreditation today: too much about increasing spending and too little about serving students.

Public comment on the accreditor’s standards is open until January 31, 2014.

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