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the accreditation process "antiquated" and a "considerable
obstacle" to higher education reform.
"Accreditation has become first and foremost a barrier to en-
try for so many people," said Burke more recently. "There's a
big problem when you have college costs at historically high
levels at a time when access to basic knowledge is cheaper
than at any other point in history --- with a wonderful prolif-
eration of online options. These are not fly-by-night providers.
These are online courses provided by Harvard [MA] and MIT."
According to Burke, the first steps toward a solution in reduc-
ing college costs should be: 1) decoupling federal financing
from accreditation and allowing federal funding and student
loans to follow students instead of institutions; and 2) decou-
pling accreditation from the institution itself. That would cre-
ate "a lot more flexibility," she explained. "Right now when you
become accredited, the entire institution becomes accredited.
Any course you offer at that institution becomes an accredited
course." That's how we end up, she added, with a 300-level
course on Lady Gaga and the culture of fame, offered a few
years ago at the University of South Carolina.
The Heritage Foundation would prefer to allow states to
choose what or who could make decisions about accred-
iting. In essence, Burke said, "you would have 51 entities
that could choose who could accredit." What would that look
like? Organizations, companies and other entities accredit-
ing courses in their areas of expertise. A state, for example,
could choose Boeing to accredit aeronautical engineering
courses and a historical society to accredit history courses.
"When you move to a model like that, you create a much
more dynamic higher ed experience for students," she ex-
plained. "They might take four or five courses at a state univer-
sity, but they might take a couple of courses from the Virginia
Historical Society or something that Boeing has approved.
It's a matter of going around and amassing different creden-
tials or seals of approval that you as an individual think will
be valuable to employers, and that employers actually value."
Burke sees no role for regional accreditors as they cur-
rently exist. "The way we've envisioned this is to let states
step up and take that regional accrediting role," she noted.
They'd decide how to structure the metrics for determin-
ing who can accredit courses. "Once that's laid out, it be-
comes a pretty good oversight mechanism."
Playing It Safe
No matter what they may think in private, institutional ad-
ministrators are probably wary of calling for major transfor-
mation of the accreditation process. "Your accreditation is
your pathway to Title IV approval, and you don't want to bet
your Title IV approval on this," LeBlanc observed. "I'm not
saying that schools would [necessarily] be penalized, but I
don't think anybody wants to take that chance."
If only for that reason alone, regional accreditation re-
mains in an angle of repose. As long as nobody kicks up
too much dirt, nobody will be lost down the hillside.
Of course, at some point maintaining stasis will not be an
option. Cathy Sandeen, vice president for education attain-
ment and innovation at the American Council on Education,
recently spoke at a retreat of the regional accrediting organi-
zations held every three years. "Just judging by the topics and
speakers, they're trying to understand the rapidly evolving
world of higher education, like the rest of us are," she mused.
It may be that the best way to steer accreditation to stay up
with education innovation is by using its strength: peer sup-
port. At least that's what's envisioned by Capella's Bushway:
"We feel like everybody needs to hold hands and move for-
ward. We're all going to take the risk together."
Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for Cam-
Making the Most
of the Flipped
CAMPUS TECHNOLOGY | February 2014
"Accreditation has become first and foremost a barrier to entry for so
many people." --- Lindsey Burke, The Heritage Foundation
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