Spellings Faces the Accreditors: Are New Ways of Measuring Higher Education in the Works?

Article excerpt

True to her promise made in the fall, U.S. secretary of education Margaret Spellings is continuing to address issues in higher education. In late November she convened an accreditation forum in Washington, D.C., with more than 60 representatives from disparate higher education institutions, councils, and associations. The Council for Aid to Education, the University of Texas System, and the American Association of Community Colleges are a sample of organizations represented.

Her buzzwords, as expected, were accessibility, affordability, and accountability. The forum, specifically, discussed the goal of aligning the current system of accreditation with proof of student learning. Student learning outcomes may eventually be part of a national database of information, which will allow students and parents to compare overall student performance at accredited colleges and universities.

Spellings has been very critical of the accreditation system. This was reflected in the final report written by her Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Her September speech introducing the report, given at the National Press Club, questioned whether IHEs are doing enough to ensure that students are graduating with the skills they need.

In their defense, the higher education accrediting bodies say that they have already begun improving processes and making changes. Following 1998's Congressional directive to make "success with respect to student achievement" a top priority, several regional accrediting bodies, including members of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, shifted their emphasis away from metrics that view financial solvency or how many faculty members have doctorate degrees, to direct measures of student learning. …