Wednesday, August 14, 2013

USA: Obama’s Accreditation Reforms on Higher Education

By Irene White
July 12th, 2013
In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama outlined several proposals to reform and improve higher education, including putting the brakes on the spiraling costs of college tuition. One method for achieving this, an initiative that has resonated with students and parents alike, is to make a school’s participation in certain federal aid programs dependent on it being affordable and effective. This new form of accreditation, linked hand-in-glove with the Department of Education’s College Scorecard has received broad public support.


Accreditation is a process through which private associations evaluate either an entire school or a particular program to ensure the education provided meets a high standard. The complicated process involves peer evaluation and significant data reporting by the institution to ensure necessary standards are met.
Criteria for accreditation differ depending on whether an entire college is seeking accreditation or just an individual program. Typical standards that must be met for an entire institution include:
  • A well-articulated mission that guides the entire institution’s operations
  • Integrity and responsibility in the administration of the institution
  • High-quality education, guided by well-articulated goals
  • Sufficient faculty, staff and resources to ensure a high-quality education
  • Sufficient student support, in terms of infrastructure, technology, advising and guidance to ensure a high-quality education
  • A well-functioning continuous improvement system of evaluation and assessment of teaching and learning
  • Sufficient institutional resources and planning to ensure effective education
Depending on the field, the criteria for accreditation of a particular program may vary widely.
Nonetheless, any program will require the following standards to be met:
  • A clear mission and plan for governing and administering the program fairly and effectively
  • Curriculum that teaches core competencies and values to enable students to develop requisite knowledge and succeed in the field
  • Diversity is fostered and the program is inclusive
  • Sufficient faculty are employed to achieve the unit’s mission for teaching
  • Faculty do scholarly research and engage in professional activities that contribute to advancement of the field
  • Sufficient services are provided to ensure students complete the program in a timely fashion
  • Sufficient resources are employed to achieve the unit’s mission
  • Faculty engage in public service for the alumni and community
  • Ongoing assessment and continuous improvement are woven into the program
Some are surprised to learn accreditation in the United States is performed by dozens of private associations, each specializing by type of institution, region or field. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) does not accredit any institution, but remains involved. It publishes a list of reliable accrediting agencies and also maintains a database of accredited programs and institutions.
You may have noticed that financial responsibility and helping students reach their goals are both typically included in criteria for accreditation. In fact, institutions that wish to participate in federal financial aid programs must meet certain financial benchmarks. Schools that fail to meet and maintain these standards cannot offer their students federal aid.


The president’s plan to increase access to high-quality, affordable education can be broken down into three major strategies. They involve granting more money to efficiently-run schools and improving access to education for high-needs and underprivileged groups.
  1. Reward Efficient Schools-
    Building on the requirements for financial responsibility, the President’s new accreditation plan takes the process a step further. The initiative would tie a school’s access to federal aid programs to its capability to provide an affordable and complete education. Criteria the administration has already identified as relevant to this determination may be found on the College Scorecard; the scorecard ranks schools and programs on graduation rates, costs, average amount borrowed, employment and student loan default rates.
    This plan to hold institutions of higher education more accountable is part of thePresident’s plan to strengthen the middle class.
    President Obama believes that this starts early – in preschool; studies have shown, in fact, that spending dollars on education early in life saves money in the long run. Acknowledging that most American four-year-olds do not attend a high-quality, free, public preschool, and only 10 states and Washington, D.C. provide free, full-day kindergarten, the President has proposed programs to provide this early education for low, moderate and middle-income children.
    Later in the education process, the President believes that we have not been adequately preparing students with the skills they need to obtain the available, high-quality jobs. It was recently reported that in 2012, nearly 600,000 high-quality manufacturing jobs went unfilled because unemployed workers lacked the skills to do them. To eliminate this discrepancy, the President has proposed that we fund a program to create a STEM Master Teacher Corps to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in the public schools.
    The President has also proposed modernizing high schools with real-world learning through partnerships with employers and colleges to offer more vocational, technical and career opportunities.
  2. Reform Immigration Policies-
    Another piece of the President’s plan involves common sense immigration reform. Today’s system of uneven enforcement effectively allows companies to hire undocumented workers at low wages. This pulls down wages for everybody and hurts the employment opportunities of legal residents.
    While at the high end of the employment spectrum, complex immigration requirements prevent necessary talent from entering and remaining in the U.S. to work. These hurdles often cause high-tech businesses to move part or all of their operations overseas – depriving Uncle Sam of necessary jobs and revenue. The President proposes we crack down on the hiring of undocumented workers, strengthen border security, establish a path to citizenship for millions of hard-working immigrants and streamline the immigration process for workers and families, particularly those with the high-level skills our economy needs.
  3. Prioritize Veteran Reintegration-
    Finally, the President has again called for strong action to help our veterans reintegrate into American society. Wounded veterans need to have better access to physical and mental health care and military families need stronger support. In particular, programs which help veterans obtain sustainable, fulfilling employment need to be bolstered, perhaps with tax credits and public-private partnerships. Shamefully, the unemployment rate among veterans who served since 2001 was 9.9% in 2012 – 46% higher than the average unemployment rate for all Americans, which was only 6.8%.
The President’s proposals are relatively new and little if any headway has been made on implementing these initiatives. However, if enacted, these programs could bring about major changes not only in the way colleges and universities are accredited, but to U.S. higher education as a whole. Prospective students researching colleges and universities should look into President Obama’s initiatives, which will make choosing a college and starting a career just that much easier.

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