Recent Florida legislation, SPB 7044, should be viewed with much concern and with skepticism as to its consequences. The bill requires state colleges and universities to seek reaffirmation from different accrediting organizations at the end of each review cycle.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the US Department of Education both have identified major problems that could result from this action.
Some members of the Florida legislature who supported this bill cited “transparency” as a reason to change agencies. The CHEA standards used to recognize accreditors are based on the principle of transparency, which requires actions and decisions about institutions to be posted on the agency’s and the institution’s websites.
Institutional accreditors are responsive to this standard and provide evidence that they act impartially and with transparency of activities and with mindfulness to ensure public trust.
Accreditation is a voluntary, scholarly process that institutions engage in to provide evidence to students, family and the public that the institution and its academic programs have quality integrity and are of public good. This review allows the institution to engage in examination of such indicators as mission and purpose, student outcomes, curriculums, faculty, library resources, financial stability, operational management, and most aspects of the institution that affect quality.
To undertake this voluntary self-study is time- and resource-intensive because it involves just about every sector of the institution. Administrators, faculty, staff, and students – all are engaged in the continuous improvement model which includes reviewing data points of every sector that impacts quality assurance.
During this process, institutions and accrediting organizations become supportive and collaborative. Accreditors learn about the institutional culture, mission, challenges, demographics, economic impacts, community, students, and campus educational environment. There is an investment by the accrediting organization in the well-being of the institution.
The collaborative rapport is created and enhanced between review cycles, which creates an environment that better serves students. The requirement to change accrediting organizations every cycle suggests that institutions establish new networks with accrediting organizations while they are in review with the current organization. Continuous improvement will be negatively affected, and accreditation costs will significantly increase.
CHEA and the US Department of Education have high levels of accountability for the accrediting organizations they recognize through appropriate standards. All recognized accrediting organizations adhere to recognition standards and protocols and implement similar and aligned standards when reviewing institutions.
Requiring institutions to change accreditors every cycle will not yield a different type of scrutiny because there is a consistency and similarity in standards and in application among all accrediting organizations. What will be different is that institutions will be extremely taxed in the preparation required to change accrediting organizations.
The SPB 7044 bill has unintended consequences for Florida higher education, undermining the purpose of accreditation and the guarantee that Florida students, parents, and families are receiving quality academic experiences provided by quality Florida institutions.
Cynthia Jackson-Hammond is President of the Council for Higher Education, a nonprofit association focused on accreditation and higher education quality. She is former President of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, and is a Florida resident.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Send letters to the editor (up to 200 words) or Your Turn columns (about 500 words) to [email protected] Please include your address for verification purposes only, and if you send a Your Turn, also include a photo and 1-2 line bio of yourself. You can also submit anonymous Zing! S at Tallahassee.com/Zing. Submissions are published on a space-available basis. All submissions may be edited for content, clarity and length, and may also be published by any part of the USA TODAY NETWORK.