WASHINGTON, D.C.– In a hearing today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) President Belle Wheelan, who is also a member of the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions, reiterated the merits of the longstanding regional accreditation system in encouraging institutional quality and improvement.
“It’s important for federal policymakers to understand why the regional accreditation system has prevailed for so many years,” Dr. Wheelan said. “It’s not simply a matter of proximity, though that is an important factor. Each regional commission has in-depth knowledge of their states’ policies and practices, has built effective relationships with their institutions, as well as state and local elected officials and stakeholders, and understands the unique needs of area students. As Congress considers proposals to reauthorize the Higher Education Actand works with the U.S. Department of Education on related regulatory proposals, maintaining and supporting the regional accreditation system is paramount.”
In her testimony, Dr. Wheelan explained the accreditation process and highlighted standards used to evaluate and conduct robust oversight of academic institutions. Additionally, Dr. Wheelan expressed concerns about proposals to impose “bright lines” for accountability.
“I understand why some would be interested in such an idea. It seems simple, takes away most subjectivity, and would presumably remove ‘bad actors,’ thereby protecting students. Unfortunately, it’s simply not that simple,” Dr. Wheelan said, explaining that available federal data does not accurately represent institutional performance and outcomes.
Dr. Wheelan said, “The point here is not just that federal graduation rates are often incomplete (an issue I know Congress is working to tackle), but also the fact that ‘bright line’ graduation rates would invariably fail to capture the many different ways in which graduation rates can be approached… Although I oppose the concept of federal ‘bright lines’ for accountability, I strongly believe we as accreditors can and must hold institutions accountable for student outcomes. In fact, that is exactly the direction all regional accreditors, including SACSCOC, are headed.”
Dr. Wheelan offered examples to illustrate how regional accrediting commissions are holding their institutions accountable for various metrics, including retention and withdrawal rates, loan repayment, transfers, and completion rates, among others. She also described SACSCOC’s requirement that each institution develop a Quality Enhancement Plan to encourage ongoing improvement and greater student success.
To read Dr. Wheelan’s testimony, click here.
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The Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions is a collective of seven regional organizations responsible for the accreditation of roughly 3,000 of the nation’s colleges and universities. To learn more, visit www.c-rac.org.