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Midwest accreditor’s latest move highlights shift in college oversight

Midwest accreditor’s latest move highlights shift in college oversight

Higher Ed Dive

Hallie Busta

March 19, 2021

Dive Brief:

  • The Higher Learning Commission, the nation’s largest historically regional accreditor, plans to test out differential accreditation based on institutional sector and mission with a selection of research institutions and community colleges.
  • The differential accreditation model lets accreditors adjust their oversight based on an institutions’ needs, and it reflects a growing emphasis on student outcomes in the accreditation process.
  • HLC is aiming to begin its pilot in the fall of 2022. It is also weighing whether to recruit outside its longtime service area in the wake of new federal rules giving accreditors more flexibility over how they do business.

Dive Insight:

HLC is still working out the details of the pilot, though enabling students to more easily transfer between its member institutions will be a focus, Barbara Gellman-Danley, the agency’s president, said in an emailed statement. The agency expects to meet with leaders of member schools as part of a preliminary research phase.

It already offers accreditation pathways that vary “by the amount of ‘touch'” an institution may need, an HLC spokesperson said in an email. Other historically regional accreditors offer similar options, or plan to.

For example, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities intends to develop a policy that would entail spending more time with at-risk institutions while using “a lighter touch” with those already performing well on student success and closing equity gaps, its president, Sonny Ramaswamy, said in an email.

And Jamienne Studley, president of WASC Senior College and University Commission, pointed to a streamlined reaffirmation path it offers to some members that can show consistent evidence of healthy finances, student outcomes and performance.

Although details on HLC’s pilot are scant so far, Antoinette Flores, acting vice president at the Center for American Progress, said in an email that tailoring the oversight process based on institutional sector as well as mission “would be unique” for the accreditor.

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