February 27, 2023
Most people don’t get accreditation. That’s OK. Most people don’t need to. But for all the students, parents and policy makers calling for a higher education reboot, know this—accreditation is one of the most powerful levers we’ve got to change what we don’t like about today’s higher ed. It’s one of our best ways to assure equity for students, quality programs and innovative new models.
Accreditation naysayers don’t understand today’s accreditation. I know: I was one of them.
For 30 years as a college vice president and president, I was on the receiving end of accreditation. In fact, in my third year of the presidency, the college I’d been brought in to turn around was given a financial warning by our accreditors. After running large operating deficits for years, the college now risked losing accreditation. At the time, it felt like the accreditors were making it that much more challenging for us to succeed. Their very public action made it hard to convince students to come to our college and alumni and donors to support us.
But here’s the thing—accreditation forced me to make the hard decisions that others before me had not made. Our college not only survived, it thrived. By the time I left after a 15-year run, enrollment had grown by more than 50 percent, and we had operated with significant surpluses for years.
Given my history with accreditation, I surprised myself when I agreed to take on the presidency of the New England Commission of Higher Education. NECHE accredits more than 200 colleges not only in New England but as far as away as Switzerland, Greece and Lebanon.
Two and a half years into the job, I now see why accreditation is both misunderstood and essential to student equity, quality assurance and the innovation we all crave in higher ed. This week, I will appear before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which advises the U.S. Department of Education on the recognition process for accrediting agencies and will share what I’ve learned.