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ACCREDITATION OF POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION

INSTITUTIONS, 1974

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 1974

U.S. SENATE,

SUBCOMMITTEE ON EDUCATION OF THE

COMMITTEE ON LABOR AND PUBLIC WELFARE,

Washington, D.C.

The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:31 a.m., in room 4232, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Hon. Claiborne Pell (subcommittee chairman), presiding.

Present: Senator Pell.

Committee staff present: Stephen J. Wexler, counsel; and Roy H. Millenson, minority professional staff.

Senator PELL. The hearing of the Subcommittee on Education will come to order.

Today we meet to discuss the subject of accreditation and its uses as a device to establish eligibility for participation in Federal education programs.

Accreditation is, to many, one of the great unknowns in the postsecondary education system of our country. One hears of schools which are accredited or which have lost their accreditation, but I do not believe that the general public or the Congress truly understands just what accreditation means.

My reading indicates to me that accreditation, as it now is practiced, grew out of an attempt by the institutions to become somewhat self-policing and to insure that the education offered at these schools reached a certain level of quality.

This type of accreditation is probably best left outside the scope of Federal authority, for it is truly in the best interests of the country that institutions be self-policing to a certain degree, without the heavy hand of the Government telling them what to teach and how to teach it.

In the past 20 years, however, accreditation has come to mean something else.

Through the process of accretion, rather than by direct mandate of Congress, the accrediting process has been utilized by the Federal Government as the factor for eligibility for participation in Federal programs. In effect, while the Federal Government does not accredit institutions, it accredits the accreditors, thus endowing those private groups with a great responsibility. And the question must arise, should that responsibility be so placed?

There is an interesting paper on accreditation from the Journal on Law and Education which I would like to insert in the record. [The material referred to follows:]

(1)

LExcerpt from the Journal of Law & Education,, Vol. II, No. 3, July 1973]

Federal Reliance on Voluntary Accreditation: The Power to Recognize as the Power to Regulate

MATTHEW W. FINKIN⭑

Introduction

Over the past twenty years, the federal government has relied increasingly on the determinations of private voluntary accrediting agencies as a criterion for eligibility for federal funds in a variety of post secondary education programs.1 That relationship has recently been subject to some criticism. A report funded by the United States Office of Education concerning post secondary occupational education, issued in 1970, concluded that unless the appropriate agencies make "needed changes in administrative structure, broaden representation, and undertake scientific investigation of their standards and evaluation criteria, a consideration of alternatives [to the current system] should not be ruled out." In a report the following year, HEW Secretary Richardson called on the Commissioner of Education to institute a formal review of accreditation of health personnel programs and alternatives, explicitly including the possibility of establishing a federally chartered corporation to coordinate national accreditation. That same year, a Task Force funded by the Ford Foundation (the Newman Commission) reporting to Secretary Richardson, suggested a reduction in federal reliance on private accreditation. Its draft second report calls for sweeping changes:

We have thus proprosed that HEW distinguish eligibility criteria and procedures from accrediting criteria and procedures, to recognize organizations-including accrediting agencies-willing to apply these criteria as opposed to accreditation standards, establish a commission to hear appeals of eligibility denial, and require institutions to publish SEC-type prospec

• LL. M., Yale University School of Law.

These are discussed infra passim.

C. WARD, THE STATE OF ACCREDITATION AND EVALUATION OF POST SECONDARY OCCUPATIONAL EDUCATION IN THE United States 208 (1970).

•HEW, REPORT ON LICENSURE AND RELATED HEALTH PERSONNEL CREDENTIALING 72 (1971). The report was mandated by the Health Training Improvement Act of 1970, discussed infra. 'HEW, REPORT on Higher Education 66 (1971).

339

340

Journal of Law-Education

Vol. 2, No. 3

tuses as a form of consumer information. Thus, we seek not to federalize accreditation, but merely to limit the federal involvement."

In the interim, the Office of Education has moved to revise its criteria pursuant to which private accrediting agencies come to be determinants for eligibility and has funded a study on Private Accrediting and Public Funding, conducted by the Brookings Institution." Although that assessment is due in August, a progress report indicates a tentative conclusion that "accreditation' does not serve adequately to protect the educational consumer or to vouch for the financial or educational integrity of all accrediated institutions. . . ." Firm proposals will doubtless be made.

Noticeably absent in the debate, at least as it has proceeded thus far, and essential to the development of concrete proposals for altering the current system, is some clear understanding of the limits of the authority of the Office of Education under the current statutory network. Curiously, no serious questions seem to have been raised within the academic community of the authority of the Commissioner of Education to adopt the proposed revisions in criteria currently under discussion nor have any of the proposals suggested the need for legislative consideration with any specificity.10 Accordingly, this discussion will treat the question of the

'Newman, A Preview of the Second Newman Report, 4 Change 28, 33 (1972).

•US. To Require Accreditors to Add Public Members, CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, 2 (October 2, 1972).

"BROOKINGS INSTITUTION PRIVATE ACCREDITIng and Public FUNDING, FACT SHEET on a 1972-73 STUDY (December 8, 1972).

⚫ORLANS, STUDY OF ACCREDITATION AND PUBLIC FUNDING, FIRST QUARTERLY REPORT 5 (October, 1972).

*“Network” is chosen in lieu of the more customary "framework" or "scheme" for as will appear subsequently a word bearing a sufficiently labyrinthian connotation is essential.

"Two staff members of the National Commission on Accrediting have pointed out that the statuatory basis seems limited and that further involvement "appears to be based entirely on administrative decision." Dickey & Miller, Federal Involvement in Nongovernmental Accreditation, 53 EDUC. REC. 138, 140 (1972). This is reiterated in F. DICKEY & J. MILER, A CurRENT PERSPECTIVE ON ACCREDITATION 51 (1972). In neither instance is the matter pursued. Harold Seidman points out that the federal role cannot transcend its current statuatory authority and that any "efforts by the office [of Education] to expand its role would be subject to challenge on legal and constitutional grounds." Seidman, Accreditation of Post Secondary Education: Problems in Organization, in STUDY OF ACCREDITATION IN SELECTed Health Educational ProGRAMS; PART I-Staff Working PAPERS F-1, F-7 (1971). He does not, however, explore the limits of that authority. An Advisory Committee to the National Commission on Accrediting, funded by the Carnegie Corporation, made firm recommendations for Commission action covering the Federal involvement including an exploration of "the constitutionality of use by federal agencies of accreditation by a voluntary agency as a basis for financial support to colleges and universities." THE ROLE AND FUNCTION OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON ACCREDITING 5 (1966). No other issue of the limits of current authority was discussed. Indeed, the Advisory Committee recommended a more expansive role for the National Commission in the decisions of federal agencies. Id. Finally, the Executive Director of the Association of American Law Schools has observed that:

...the Office of Education has begun to tighten its procedures in deciding whether or not to add an accrediting agency to its list. Here, we find the Office of Education, in the

July 1973

Federal Reliance on Voluntary Accreditation

341 government's current authority. Given the breadth of the statutory language concerned, this analysis must perforce rely on legislative intent to the extent discernable as well as on an institutional analysis of the respective roles of the legislative and executive branches in the light of the criticisms leveled at the accreditation system. It would be helpful prior to the requisite emersion in the skein to have some brief acquaintance with the structure and functions of voluntary accreditation.

Structure

There are two types of accreditation: institutional and specialized or program." The former is accorded by six regional associations of member institutions each exercising exclusive jurisdiction for a specific geographic area.12 The origins of the various associations differ but they seem to have been engendered by a common concern for the problems of admissions and the maintenance of minimum academic standards.18 The regionals have formed a national Federation of Regional Accreditating Commissions of Higher Education to coordinate their efforts. Each association formulates standards for eligibility for membership, which constitutes the acquisition of institutional accreditation, and determines through committees of visitation whether applicants have conformed to them. In addition, member institutions are themselves periodically re-evaluated, usually at ten-year intervals.

The U.S. Office of Education's Statement of Criteria and Procedures points out that, “regional, or institutional, accreditation applies to the total institution and signifies that the institution as a whole is achieving its objectives satisfactorily." 14 In addition, the Federation of Regional

U.S. government, actively engaged in setting standards for an aspect of education that has traditionally been very free of government regulation.

Cardozo, Recent Developments in Legal Aspects of Accreditation, 213 J. AM. MED. Ass'n. 594, 595 (1970). Again, no issue of the authority of the Office to so move was raised.

"HEW, NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED ACCREDITING AGENCIES AND ASSOCIATIONS, Criteria and Procedures for Listing by the US. Commissioner of Education and Current List 1 (March, 1972) (hereinafter CRITERIA AND PROCEDURES). A brief history of accreditation is provided in W. SELDEN, ACCREDitation: A Struggle Over Standards in Higher Education (1960) and an updated bibliography and analysis is supplied in F. DICKEY AND J. MILLER, A CURRENT PERSPECTIVE ON ACCREDITATION (1972). C. WARD, supra note 2 for accreditation of occupational education programs, and Miller, Structure of Accreditation of Health Educational Programs in STUDY OF ACCREDITATION OF SELECTED Health Educational Programs, PART I: STAFF Working PAPERS, ACCREDITATION OF HEALTH EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS, B-1 (1971), for health program accreditation. See also, Cardozo, Accreditation in Legal Education, 49 CHI-KENT L. Rev. 1 (1972).

"They are the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

"W. Selden, supra, note 11 at 42.

14 CRITERIA AND PROCEDURES, supra, note 11 at 2.

342 Journal of Law-Education

Vol. 2, No. 3 Accrediting Commissions has stated that accreditation does not validate any specialized program offered by the institution.15

Specialized or program accreditation is performed by a number of organizations which are national in scope, rather than regional, and each of which represent a specialized area, such as architecture, cosmetology, law, practical nursing, teaching, or trade and technical education. A primary purpose of specialized accreditation is to protect the public against professional or occupational incompetence.16

Such specialized agencies are themselves either membership organizations of professionals or associations of professional schools in the field or some body affiliated with them, although in such instances, the degree of control varies." In the health field particularly, the exponential increase in new sub-professions and semi-professions each with a claim for separate accreditation has produced no small strain on the entire accreditation structure.18

Overviewing the accreditating system is the National Commission on Accrediting, composed of member institutions and associations of institions, which undertakes, in effect, to accredit the accrediting agencies.1o Its early efforts to reduce the status of specialized agencies to that of advisors to the regional associations aborted and it has attempted rather to rationalize the accrediting structure.

Functions

The U.S. Office of Education lists nine functions performed by voluntary accreditation:

1. Certifying that an institution has met established standards;

2. Assisting prospective students in identifying acceptable institutions;
3. Assisting institutions in determining the acceptability of transfer credits;
4. Helping to identify institutions and programs for the investment of
public and private funds;

5. Protecting an institution against harmful internal and external pres

sures;

6. Creating goals for self-improvement of weaker programs and stimulating a general raising of standards among educational institutions;

7. Involving the faculty and staff comprehensively in institutional evaluation and planning;

"Quoted in F. DICKEY & J. MILLER, supra, note 11 at 13.

CRITERIA AND PROCEDURES, supra, note 11 at 2.

"Miller, supra, note 11.

*Selden, Expansion of Accreditation of Health Educational Programs, in STUDY OF ACCREDITATION OF SELECTED HEALTH EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS, PART 1: Staff Working Papers, E-1 (1971).

"Note, The Legal Status of the Educational Accrediting Agency: Problems in Judicial Supervision and Governmental Regulation, 52 CORNELL L. Q. 104, 105–106 (1966).

*F. DICKEY & J. MILLER, supra, note 11 at 18–21.

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