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Accreditation Reform Focus of Forum

A forum on accreditation Friday in Washington, D.C., drew calls for changes in the current system as well as a need to focus on larger issues such as college affordability for low-income students and more accountability for institutions.

Arthur Rothkopf, former Lafayette College president and a member of the secretary of education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, cited a need to share accreditation reports and findings with the public even if some of the findings portray a college in a negative light.

“Almost every other sector of our country has transparency,” he said at the forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute.

He also touched on another controversial issue before the commission: whether to provide an end-of-college test for students to demonstrate results and accountability. Rothkopf said he was more than open to the idea, noting that most colleges already require the SAT or similar test for student admission. “Why is it good to require testing on the way in and not on the way out?” he asked.

Now the senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he said business leaders consistently cite a shortage of workers with adequate skills, even if they graduated from college.

As for accreditation’s future, panelists at another forum sought major changes. “Accreditation is fundamentally flawed in its current form,” said Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. She recommended separating accreditation from financial aid, claiming that accreditors won’t get tough with colleges for fear that it may cost students access to financial assistance.

She also would give colleges seeking re-accreditation an option to speed up the process if they share information about student outcomes, graduation rates and other issues. But audience members attending the sessions countered that accreditors do much of this work now, looking at graduation rates, student satisfaction and evaluations of student learning.

Saying she hoped to look at accreditation in a broader context, Sara Martinez Tucker, the U.S. Undersecretary of Education, noted that the United States has fallen to 18th in high school graduation rates and has the highest college dropout rate among developed countries.

“We need new methods to get to these students,” she said, referring to low-income, first-generation students just approaching college age. Such focus is important because the United States is slipping behind other developed nations in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees.

“For the first time we have generations with less educational success than the group that preceded them,” she said.

Since 1992, total financial aid to students has tripled from $50 billion to $150 billion. But educational attainment has remained flat while tuitions have increased substantially. During a recent tour of colleges and schools, Tucker said she was ‘stunned” at how often people asked her whether families should borrow from their retirement funds to pay for college.

“We need high-quality, new ways to deliver higher education to students,” she added.

– Charles Dervarics

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