Seton Hall Assistant Professor Robert Kelchen raised some interesting points in a report he wrote on the topic of accreditation and its role in today’s higher education institutions. Kelchen asserted that perhaps accrediting bodies should not focus on an institution’s financial footing as a precondition for accreditation, but rather on academic quality: whether students are receiving an excellent educational experience that will have a positive impact on their lives personally and in the workplace. Federal and state government agencies, Kelchen suggested, would be more appropriate entities to monitor and ensure each institution’s financial stability since they already submit annual reports to USDOE and their state’s coordinating board for higher education authority.
I tend to agree. As someone who has considerable experience working in the area of compliance and accreditation, I can attest that site team reviewers for a whole lot of reasons are typically ill-equipped to make judgments with confidence about an institution’s financial security. They have little time to learn as much as possible about specific standards-based academic requirements, and typically site reviewers are academic volunteers from the profession without any accounting or fiscal expertise. Besides, even if they had CPAs or the equivalent on staff, who is to say that accrediting bodies should be making decisions about how much cash on hand or in reserve each institution should have? Let them focus on how well students are prepared, and let governmental agencies responsible for authorizing institutions to operate provide guidance regarding fiscal requirements.
This is already something that needs to be fixed, and as more institutions experiment with alternative instructional models such as offering micro-credentials or individualized learning options, it will be more and more difficult for accrediting bodies to keep up. The time to reconsider the role of accreditation is now.
Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.