Home News The Education Dept. Wants Accreditors to Compete. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? – The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Education Dept. Wants Accreditors to Compete. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? – The Chronicle of Higher Education

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The U.S. Department of Education has gotten a lot of attention for its efforts to lower the bar for colleges to get and keep access to federal student aid. The rationale for that approach has been that competition is good for the higher-education market; a variety of institutions could provide a greater range of educational opportunities and keep prices low for students.

Now, buried in the department’s 400-plus pages of proposed regulations, are changes meant to spur competition among the nation’s accrediting organizations — the groups that are supposed to be overseeing the academic quality and federal compliance of their member colleges. Notably, the proposed rules would allow the seven regional accreditors, whose membership is largely limited to particular states, to accredit colleges outside their geographic boundaries.

“With the removal of geographic area from the definition of ‘scope,’” the department writes in its proposed rules, “we hope to allow for additional competition, so that an institution or program may select an agency that best aligns with the institution’s mission and to improve transparency about the States in which each agency accredits campuses.”

The idea of abolishing the regional boundaries of this group of accreditors is not a new one, and it has some support even among those who are critical of the department’s reasoning. “At some point we do have to break down these regional barriers,” said David A. Bergeron, a senior fellow for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress. But to do it properly requires a change in the federal law, not just tweaking the regulations, he said.

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