EducationCounsel is a mission-based education consulting firm that combines experience in policy, strategy, law, and advocacy to drive significant improvements in the U.S. education system.
On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court (the Court) announced its second decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which upheld the University of Texas’s (UT) race-conscious admissions program under federal law. Notably, in affirming prior Court precedent, the decision also provided significant insight regarding policy development considerations and key evidence, which should inform the efforts of public and private institutions that consider race in enrollment practices moving forward. This preliminary Q&A is intended to provide clear, concise guidance on important points and key takeaways to assist institutional and organizational leaders in crafting their immediate responses to the decision and strategies moving forward. After a brief review of the background and procedural history of the case, it answers 11 key questions that practitioners and policymakers may have at this time.
This policy brief and accompanying slide deck lay out a new framework for an accreditation system that is more responsive to student outcomes and better at directing time, resources, and attention to those institutions that need it most. The framework addresses the core federal interest in ensuring that billions of annual student loan and taxpayer dollars are spent on quality higher education programs and also the need to refine the federal role to improve quality and accountability for colleges and universities. The proposed framework builds on effective and long-standing elements of the higher education accreditation process. It relies on five pillars that can shape meaningful, constructive reform:
- Place a sharp focus on student outcomes as the basis for assessing quality
- Use risk assessments as the key lens in accreditation
- Differentiate accreditor engagement with institutions based on results from the risk assessments
- Create a federal recognition process that supports and holds accreditors accountable for the transition to and use of systems that are differentiated and focused on outcomes
- Reduce regulatory burdens that are not fundamental to the achievement of core public or federal interests
This project would not have been possible without the support of Lumina Foundation. We are also deeply grateful for the contributions of many policy experts, practitioners, and stakeholders, including those representing institutions, students, and accreditors, whose thoughtful feedback and commentary significantly shaped this framework.
By Amber Saddler
Amber Saddler is a Policy Assistant with EducationCounsel where she works on a range of higher education and K-12 issues to help improve equity and education access for all students. She enjoys long walks on the beach and observing federal advisory boards at work.
Recently, I joined the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) and spent three very long and very exciting days in a hotel conference room in Northern Virginia while the committee made recommendations to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to continue or deny federal recognition to programmatic and institutional accreditation agencies wishing to serve as gatekeepers to federal funding under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.
Among the audience, there was great interest in NACIQI’s recommendation to ED to revoke federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). While ACICS was the only agency NACIQI is currently suggesting should have its recognition removed, many committee members made it clear that other accrediting agencies, especially the regional entities, should sit up and take notice of the “new sheriff in town.” Committee members from both sides of the aisle and from various higher education backgrounds agreed with the need for stronger enforcement of agency standards than had been in place in the past and that a new, more rigorous review process for all accreditors is the path forward for higher education.
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