Ralph A. Wolff, president of the Senior College Commission at the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), has written an overview of how accrediting agencies are changing their focus, and what this means for members of governing boards. Do read his article in its entirety, but here are some highlights:

  1. Accountability and mission fulfillment. Accrediting bodies have traditionally monitored compliance (Does your school meet certain standards?) and, more recently, improvement (Is your school getting better at what it does?). Today, a third emphasis is emerging -- accountability. That means determining how well a school does what it says it does -- whether the school actually fulfills its promise -- and providing meaningful information to the public about institutional performance.
  2. Accrediting agencies are the go-between. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 reminded many of us of how directly our institutions are beholden to the federal government. But the federal government provides a lot of money through federal student aid, and the Department of Education relies on accrediting agencies to keep watch on their institutions -- even theological schools. This includes areas such as student-learning outcomes, graduation rates, outsourcing of faculty and academic programs, development of online education, and monitoring of major institutional changes and attempts at rapid growth.
  3. More monitoring, more often. Wolff explains that accreditation is shifting significantly from an "episodic" process to a more continual monitoring of educational institutions.  This involves more interim reports, site visits, and proposal requirements for specific programs and initiatives. 

Table about

In the end, Wolff says that trustees should stay abreast of these shifts in the industry and must ask hard questions of their administrations about the regulatory environment in which they operate:

  1. Is the institution in compliance with federal regulations and in line with accrediting expectations? 
  2. Is it fulfilling its promises, and how do we know? 
  3. And are we providing our students with the skills and perspectives to be successful -- professionally and personally -- after graduation?

If your school can answer these questions honestly, then it's more likely to achieve "mission fulfillment with economic vitality" during the changes to come. 

 

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