The Forum | Trusteeship

More Now Than Ever: Accreditation Reform Needed

June 1, 2016 by Michael B. Poliakoff

Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and Mark A. Elgart, founding president and chief executive officer of AdvancED, object to the U.S. Department of Education’s new mandates for the accrediting agencies that oversee access to Title IV federal student financial aid. (That sum was $134 billion in 2014, along with an outstanding $1.1 trillion loan portfolio.)

The accreditors, according to Wheelan and Elgart, “explore the myriad underlying causes of low performance in an effort to map a path toward improvement.” They assert that “the department’s determination to have accreditors give greater weight to bright-line indicators — rates of retention, graduation, job placement, student-loan repayment and defaults — is disturbing.”  Indeed it is for SACS and the other regional accreditors, who cling to their prerogative of being the gatekeepers for this staggering sum of federal money.  Let’s “do the numbers” for schools in the SACS region that have been under Dr. Wheelan’s watch.  Paine College’s first-time, full-time four year graduation rate is 4%; Texas Southern University 6%; Savannah State at 8%.

Even optimistically assuming that most of the students who transfer out – for whatever reason – ultimately graduate somewhere, the point is abundantly clear that students and taxpayers are ill-served by the accreditor’s “good housekeeping seal” and their allergy to clear metrics.  SACS is part of a cozy but desperately broken system of accreditation, and the ongoing whining about clear and objective measures is a symptom of that dysfunction. 


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