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Higher Ed Accreditation Agencies Remain Steadfast Despite Conservative Attacks

Higher Ed Accreditation Agencies Remain Steadfast Despite Conservative Attacks

INSIGHT Into Diversity

Mariah Bohanon
November 6, 2023
In recent months, college and university accrediting agencies have come under attack by leading conservative figures who claim the agencies are bastions of far-left political beliefs and responsible for infusing DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) standards into higher education. But accreditors say their work is being miscategorized and the negativity is unfounded.
Educating the public about the true nature of their process could help resolve the challenges, accrediting leaders say. Meanwhile, they continue to face political and legislative battles.
In May, former president Donald Trump issued a campaign video in which he vowed to fire the “radical left accreditors” should he secure the presidency in 2024. Trump claimed they have failed to protect students and taxpayers and suggested they need to be replaced by new accrediting agencies.
The following month, Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., and his administration filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education that claims the power wielded by accrediting agencies is unconstitutional.
“Within the next couple of years, I think we’re going to see this accreditation cartel basically come crumbling down and more freedom in higher education reigning supreme,” DeSantis said in announcing the lawsuit, the latest in a series of actions he has taken against accreditors.
Also in June, another Florida politician, Sen. Marco Rubio (R), proposed the “Fairness in Higher Education Accrediting Act,” which seeks to ban agencies from using DEI and affirmative action policies as criteria in the accrediting process. Co-sponsored by Senators Rick Scott (R-FL) and Mike Lee (R-UT), the bill will prevent accreditors from putting “direct pressure on universities to comply with woke standards or risk reputational financial ruin,” according to a press release.
Most of the nation’s largest accreditation agencies, however, include very little language related to DEI principles in their current standards. In fact, it was not until 2022 that the Council for Higher Education Accreditation — which oversees the six major U.S. regional accreditors — added its first requirement in support of DEI. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), which includes Florida’s higher education institutions, has only a position statement — rather than an actual accreditation standard — related to DEI.
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