ED Undersecretary Mitchell Addresses Accreditation, Experimentation at DC Event

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

Shifts in the higher education landscape and broader experimentation with delivery models are leading to changes in how the role of accreditation is viewed, with many policymakers advocating for processes that place a stronger emphasis on student outcomes and quality assurance.

During an event on Thursday hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP), Department of Education (ED) Undersecretary for Higher Education Ted Mitchell discussed how a new project could lead to innovation in accreditation of non-traditional higher education programs, such as coding boot camps.

The project—Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships program, or EQUIP—allows eight applicants to participate in an experiment to allow students to use federal financial aid to attend programs run by colleges and nontraditional providers. A quality assurance entity is assigned to each applicant to serve as an alternative form of accreditation, with an emphasis on student outcomes as a measure of effectiveness.

“In a time when experimentation in the higher education marketplace is happening … the quality assurance process has to be more responsive” to that innovation, Mitchell said during a panel discussion. “This is not just a thing that will evolve on its own.”

One focus of EQUIP is to determine the outcomes for certain populations of students, including low-income and nontraditional students who are the “biggest driver” in the changing higher education landscape, Mitchell said.

“The institutional changes that need to happen to accommodate [those students] are different than the kind of change higher education has gone through in the last 100 years,” Mitchell said. “We need to think of quality assurance as a way to keep pace with those changes.”

Also during the event, CAP Senior Director of Postsecondary Education Ben Miller discussed a recent paper he co-authored that proposes an alternative to the current process of accreditation in which educational providers “would have to meet rigorous and ambitious standards for student achievement and financial health,” according to the paper. Independent third parties would set the measures, while ED would be responsible for enforcement of the standards by which institutions are measured.

“The big gain here is clear-cut measures of student outcomes,” Miller said, noting that the alternative approach would provide a better pathway for innovation in higher education, as well as a way to redistribute the burden placed on accreditors so they can focus more on institutions that do not serve students well.

Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), said that the accrediting community has already been working on ways to make student outcomes a more central part of the accreditation process, as well as making the process itself more transparent. However, she expressed some reservations about CAP’s proposed alternative method, citing concerns about the role the federal government would play as a gatekeeper.


Publication Date: 10/7/2016

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