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Policymakers must strengthen — not dismantle — the college accreditation system

Policymakers must strengthen — not dismantle — the college accreditation system

Higher Ed Dive

Madison Weiss
December 22, 2023
Some lawmakers have recently attempted to undermine higher education institutions by targeting a crucial yet often overlooked process — accreditation. Policymakers must understand what accreditation entails and how it is being attacked in order to effectively protect it.
As the U.S. Department of Education prepares for a high-level rulemaking process next month to discuss this very mechanism, there’s no time to waste.
Think of accreditation as a university’s gold stamp of approval. It means an institution has been through a rigorous peer-review process and met quality standards required by the Education Department. It’s a process long enshrined in federal law and reaffirmed under the Higher Education Act.
It’s a high-stakes matter: Colleges and universities can’t grant their students access to federal aid without a recognized accreditor’s backing. The process is meant to serve as a crucial endorsement for students that prevents subpar institutions from taking advantage of them.
Despite these intended effects, lax federal oversight means accreditors haven’t always shielded students from predatory programs. And unfortunately, the Trump administration weakened regulations in 2019, making it easier for colleges to short-change students without jeopardizing their access to federal funds.
However, the importance of accreditation as a watchdog for higher education cannot be overstated, and the improvement of the system — rather than its dismantling — is essential. Beefing up the federal review of accreditors will ensure their approval is a trustworthy signal of quality.
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