More data to be public on accreditation

New requirements aim to make the process of accreditation more transparent.

Benjamin Farniok

More information about universities’ goals for student outcomes will be available this spring, after the Department of Education changed accreditation requirements last 
month.
 
The changes will in part make accrediting agencies publish data on measures like student retention and loan repayment to measure schools’ program quality.
 
Accrediting agencies have collected data like course completion and job placement rates, as well as the criteria by which they judge schools, but they haven’t been required to publish them.
 
To receive accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, the group that accredits the University of Minnesota, a school must meet a number of standards, like clearly stating goals for student achievement and retention. Schools must be accredited every 10 years.
 
“It is really important to really evaluate the transparency issues that the accreditation system has and the program quality,” said Betsy Talbot, manager of institutional licensing and registration with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.
 
OHE will hire two new people to better assure the quality of school programs and to fill in gaps that are left by HLC, she said.
 
The changes the Department of Education made are meant to serve higher-risk schools, like for-profit colleges or schools that take on students less likely to graduate, Talbot said.
 
The last time the University’s programs were reviewed was in 2005, when accrediting agencies did not have to publicly disclose their standards for accreditation. That information is now published by the Education Department because of the change last month.
 
Schools need accreditation as well as approval from state and federal governments to receive funding.
 
Joseph Shultz, deputy chief of staff to the Provost and the University of Minnesota’s liaison to the HLC, said he’s not particularly concerned about the University’s
accreditation because old, well-established schools generally have their accreditation renewed.
 
The HLC decision on the University’s accreditation will be made next spring.
 
The Department of Education also recommended to Congress that it be able to create and enforce expectations for accreditation agencies. The expectations could be used to
reward accreditors that do well and make it easier for the Education Department to manage agencies and institutions that are unable to meet the standards.
 
Karen Miksch, a higher-education law professor said the purpose of agencies like the HLC is to make sure institutions don’t deviate from requirements.
 
“It’s an opportunity for institutions of higher education to come up with what they think the standards are supposed to be,” she said.