Disruption in the Accreditation Space

Dr. Judith Eaton, President of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), was the Keynote Speaker at ACBSP Conference in Anaheim, California. CHEA is a national advocate and institutional voice for promoting academic quality through accreditation. It is also an association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities and recognizes 60 institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations.

Dr. Eaton is the “tip of the spear” for global academic quality. I was honored to be present when she shared her insightful message about the “new normal in accreditation.” According to Dr. Eaton, “we are at an inflection moment,” as the higher education landscape is changing, causing a disruption in the accreditation space, now known as the “new normal.”

Keeping this in mind, how do we move forward?

The new normal for accreditation is a compliance-focused, performance-driven, government-dominated, and publicly owned process. Accreditors are becoming less in charge of our own operations.”

The definition of quality may not be ours and may not support some accreditors’ missions. Accreditors may not be accountable to higher education first, but rather the public. Now, the basic features of accreditation may be considered inadequate. It is more than likely that accreditation may evolve toward a more nationalized, standardized, and uniform quality review process.

The new normal for accreditation is a compliance-focused, performance-driven, government-dominated, and publicly owned process.

Naturally, there will be some pushback. It is our job to advocate for our strengths, including our mission, autonomy, and academic freedom.

We’re more focused on protecting students — rigor, student achievement, outcomes, successes, transparency, and embracing innovation.

We will use institutional autonomy to rebuild confidence — responding to calls for information and transparency at the institutional level.

Dr. Eaton also posed important questions on how well ACBSP is positioned for this new normal.

Here is my response:

How well is ACBSP positioned for the new normal?

ACBSP is at an advantageous position for the new normal. We are proactive in most areas of Dr. Eaton’s suggestions. However, we live our guiding principle of continuous improvement. I am happy to say that the AGB, staff, and both Boards of Commissioners continuously work to improve ACBSP standards and processes moving us in the right direction to meet the aspirations of the new normal. That is what keeps ACBSP in the position of helping our business programs become the leading edge of validated management practices that have proven to work in high-performing institutions of higher education to plan, perform, evaluate and measure results for institutional learning and sustainability.

Do ACBSP standards put evidence of student learning first?

ACBSP has been, and continues to be, the leader in the accreditation world at putting evidence of student learning first. Many accreditors are catching up and some are asking ACBSP to help them. Several of the recipients of the CHEA Award for Outstanding Institutional Practice in Student Learning Outcomes came from institutions that have ACBSP business program accreditation, especially in the early years of the award.

What can I really know about the quality of a program from the ACBSP website?

ACBSP is more of a quality improvement accreditor and less of a quality assurance accreditor, such as the U.S. regional accreditors. I believe this question from Dr. Eaton is more about quality assurance. However, this is one area that we can still improve on.

We publish a report on accreditation actions after every board meeting that includes the rationale for the accreditation decision. That rationale is shared with the public. We do not list every note or condition the board members put on a business program. We are partners in the continuous improvement journey and many programs would be less likely to share with us what they are really doing if we published all that information. By keeping some of the information private, we can provide them with more accurate feedback to help them improve their educational processes.

Does ACBSP have programs that have needed serious improvement for a long time – but remain accredited?

There are no programs in ACBSP that have needed serious improvement for a long time – but remain accredited that we are aware of. ACBSP has removed the accreditation from five programs in the last few years — there are not many accreditors that can say this.

What is ACBSP doing to build public confidence in both the Council and accredited programs?

ACBSP communicates daily via social media, telephone, website and email with the public about accreditation and accredited programs to build public confidence in both the Council and accredited programs. We often receive inquiries via telephone, however in the recent years we’ve seen an increase in communication via our website, email, and social media.

Social media is a great tool for ACBSP, as it allows us to have interaction with students who may not have engaged with us before. Our social media presence also allows us to remain connected with business education professionals around the world and keeps them better informed of updates and announcements from our World Headquarters.

Accreditation Decisions and Public Information pages can be accessed under the Accreditation tab on ACBSP.org. These pages are regularly updated with new information, as it becomes available.

Our goal is to provide the public with the most transparent information.

Anytime there is disruption, there lies a challenge ahead. We must prepare ourselves for change. Hopefully, my answers have provided you with some insight on the direction that we are taking to adapt to the new normal. For questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to email me at sparscale@acbsp.org. Now back to your usual programming.

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