Planning for Higher Education Journal

Accreditation and the Public Interest

Can Accreditors Continue to Play a Central Role in Public Policy?
From Volume 40 Number 3 | April–June 2012
By Terry W. Hartle

Institutional accreditation has served higher education and the public interest well for more than a century, but now its purposes are changing quickly and dramatically. Accreditation began as a voluntary, nongovernmental peer review process internally managed by colleges and universities to determine if schools met threshold tests of academic quality and to facilitate institutional self-improvement. However, it has increasingly become the primary mechanism for assuring policy makers and the public that institutions of higher education are academically sound and offer studentsa valuable product. This is a trend that seems likely to continue. As federal support for higher education grows and the importance of postsecondary credentials plays a larger and larger role in individual and national well-being, the demands placed on accreditors are likely to increase. Indeed, a quick overview of the history of accreditation and the federal government illustrates that the use of accreditors to pursue specific federal policy objectives is not a new development, but rather a trend that has been underway for a long time.

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