August 1, 2023
US accreditors are seeking the Biden administration’s help in unifying their approach to partisan attacks on higher education, while growing concerned that they are falling away as a priority in an especially busy policy environment.
The nation’s accreditation system, which typically resides in the background of policy debates, is coming under growing scrutiny at both the state and federal level as conservatives attacking higher education increasingly recognize its power.
That’s causing splits within the accreditation community, with some choosing to fight partisan onslaughts directly and others questioning if the benefit is worth the risk and harm.
“It’s a significant challenge,” said Jan Friis, senior vice-president for government affairs at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the chief US lobby group on accreditation. “And each accreditor has to face that in each state in which they operate based on the legislature.”
The two top Republican presidential contenders, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, are among several leading party voices who have promised to break or redirect the control that accreditors hold over universities as a result of their gatekeeping role in making institutions eligible for federal student aid.
That power held by accreditors rarely commands attention outside academia. But one of the six major regional accrediting agencies, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS), got noticed by intervening twice in recent years in politically fraught cases in Florida and North Carolina.