Middle States Commission on Higher Education back

Open Letter from the Commission (November 7, 2003)

Middle States Commission on Higher Education
3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. Tel: 267-284-5000


TO:              Presidents of Member & Candidate Institutions,
                    MSCHE Commissioners, and
                    Other Colleagues in Higher Education

FROM:          Jean Avnet Morse, MSCHE Executive Director

DATE:           November 7, 2003

SUBJECT:      Regional Accreditation and Reauthorization of
The Higher Education Act

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is always an occasion for Congress to raise new issues. Regional accreditation will be one area in which Congress has a special interest, in addition to tuition increases and other higher education issues that have received extensive publicity.

Of course, Congress has a legitimate interest in protecting the eligibility of students of accredited institutions to receive federal loans and grants until Title IV of the Higher Education Act.

Unfortunately, legislation that is currently being discussed threatens to undermine the historic commitments that have been fundamental to the success of American higher education. As the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has pointed out on behalf of all types of accreditors, the commitments that we should work to preserve include our reliance on non-governmental processes, peer review, and the need to honor the mission of each college and university–all of which are highly valued by American higher education today.

The Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC), of which Middle States is a member, has drafted proposals for ways in which Congress can have concrete evidence that colleges and universities are being responsive to the needs of the public. When you next meet your legislators, we urge you to discuss the following suggestions for how peer reviewers can approach institutional accountability in the context of each institution’s mission, instead of evaluating institutions outside their unique contexts:

1. Instead of basing Title IV eligibility on numerical and possibly standardized measures of “accountability” such as graduation and job placement rates, C-RAC has proposed that institutions provide information to the public that includes numerical information, much of which is already required to be reported for IPEDS. Institutions would also be permitted to include in public information “qualitative” and other tailored data produced by the increasingly rich student learning assessment processes selected by each institution.

Accreditors would then weigh the learning achieved by students and other evidence of overall institutional effectiveness within the mission and context of the institution being reviewed.

2. Instead of creating separate standards and processes to assess distance learning, accrediting agencies would use the same high standards that are used for other types of education, but would improve the ways in which its existing standards and processes are applied to distance learning and its rapid growth.

3. Instead of requiring institutions to report annually and on a three year rolling basis on credits accepted and counted towards degrees as well as disaggregated reporting of transfer credits accepted from different types of accreditors by region, CRAC has proposed that accreditors would ensure that institutional policies require that decisions about transfer are founded on more than the accredited status of the sending institution. Institutions would disclose rates of undergraduate transfers out of the institution.

4. Instead of distributing entire self-studies and team reports, accrediting agencies would expand the useful and relevant information available to college communities and the public.

If you have any suggestions or questions, or wish to receive more detailed materials, please contact Jean Morse at the Commission office (jmorse@msache.org or 267-284-5025).

Sincerely yours,

Judith L. Gay, Chair
Jean Avnet Morse, Executive Director

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