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Higher Education Policy and Practice

Department of Education Pushes SACS to Redo an Accreditation

On Tuesday, September 19th, the Chronicle of Higher Education contained a news item that is very worrisome for Accreditation Commissions and Colleges or Universities.  The Department of Education (DOE) notified the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) that it had failed to follow rules in reviewing changes in the general education requirements at Northern Kentucky University (NKU).

The DOE told SACS that it needed to respond to the following items that did not conform either to SACS or DOE policies:

  1. NKU general education requirements did not meet SACS standards.
  2. SACS had not fully evaluated changes in the curriculum to assure itself that the university had enough qualified faculty for the new course requirements.
  3. SACS had not responded adequately to complaints from some faculty about the new curriculum.

Many educators and administrators will find this intervention by DOE to be troublesome because it means that the accrediting commission is no longer the final arbiter for approving curriculum changes.  This article suggests that DOE is providing oversight of accrediting commissions’ activities and making its own determination of what is correct or not.

Oversight by DOE will make accrediting commissions fearful of approving changes without the blessing of the Department.  It could force commissions to impose rigid standards which will allow no innovation or experimentation.  Colleges and universities at financial risk may find that their risks are now greater than before.  DOE will become the gorilla in the backyard!

Michael Townsley, PhD

Senior Consultant, Stevens Strategy

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