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Streamlining means that we ask whether the current process of federal review of accrediting organization is doing the job. Accrediting organizations, in federal law, are “reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training.” This is where regulation needs to focus. Instead, federal review is often about day-to-day operation, e.g., hiring practices, appointment of decision-making bodies, activities that are important but are not part of determining quality. Regulation is focused on many of the wrong things and has become an end in itself. Streamlining can change this.
Clarifying regulation means taking a new look at just what business the federal government expects accreditation to carry out. Over the years, more and more regulation is focused on what accreditors are doing about use of federal funds such as student grants and loans, student indebtedness and default rates. But the law says that accreditors are reliable authorities on educational quality, not student aid, debt and default. These are the tasks of USDE.
Accreditation is dedicated to helping students learn, to improving educational quality and to promoting quality innovation. This is what “reliable authority as to the quality of education or training” means. This is not the government’s work. We need Congress to reauthorize an HEA that allows accreditation to do what it does best, with sufficient regulation to produce accountability yet enable accreditation to be successful in its vital service to students and society.
Judith Eaton is president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.