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Views from the 2024 CHEA conference

What is new in accreditation in the US? Here are observations from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) conference that took place in Washington DC at the end of January.
February 29, 2024
6 Minute Read

ECE President Margit Schatzman highlights the global interest in the US accreditation model and the impact of US politics on higher education. She questions the relevance of regional accreditation amid changes, expresses concern over the Middle States Commission's withdrawal from CHEA, and discusses the USQF for student mobility. Her observations underscore a dynamic accreditation landscape influenced by global trends and political shifts.

Views From 2024 CHEA Conference

A simple definition 

Accreditation, as a voluntary system of quality assurance, has been the bedrock of recognition of higher education institutions in the United States.  Most other countries traditionally had strong, centralized ministries of education that provided official institutional recognition.  The US model of accreditation has attracted interest and gained traction in our interconnected global education environment.

Enhanced conference program 

The participation of international members continues to grow at CHEA.  This inclusion creates a more interesting and globally relevant environment for attendees.  A few years ago, CHEA leadership made the wise decision to integrate its traditional CHEA conference with the CHEA International Quality Group (CIQG) gathering.  Previously, the two groups’ conferences were held separately.  The new schedule and format of the gathering has invigorated the tenor of the entire conference.  Attendees from countries outside of the United States provide enriched content for sessions with global insights and perspectives.  

An example of the enhanced programming was the plenary led by Stamenka Uvalić-Trumbić, member of the CIQG Advisory Council and former Chief of the UNESCO Higher Education Section.  She described the UNESCO Recognition Convention and its impact on quality assurance, student mobility, and equity in the global context.

Attendees from countries as varied as Arab Emirates, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines addressed how accreditation, as they define it within their own country, is gaining wide acceptance and being translated into action.  Accreditation is now widely seen as a key to quality assurance.

United States political consideration

The impact of US politics on higher education was front and center at the conference.  In depth analysis of the impact of stalled government action on matters of concern to higher education was dissected by experts.  An excellent plenary on the impact of the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action provided sobering information and a realistic assessment of what institutions can and cannot and should and should not do to continue supporting equity and access.  

An explanation of how the Florida law requiring higher education institutions to change accreditors with each review cycle pointed to an impact on the higher education community that wasn’t envisioned by the politicians who enacted the legislation.  This topic was not only discussed in formal sessions yet was also a topic of lively conversations in the hallways and during meals.  Political influences in the United States continue to shape the higher education landscape, especially in the accreditation area.  It shows that US education will continue to change, based on pressures from different stakeholders.  How will this impact the reputation of US higher education in other countries?

Does the term ‘regional accreditation’ matter? 

Question to self…should I stop referring to “regional accreditation” when the traditional geographical affiliations of the six accreditors are no longer in place?  Now that institutions can “shop around” for an accreditor, even though the nomenclature of “regional accreditation” is still commonly used and remains in CHEA documentation, is it truly regional?  Is “institutional accreditation,” which appears in use with greater frequency, more accurate?

And how many regional, or institutional, accreditors are there?  Middle States Commission on Higher Education recently quietly dropped its CHEA membership.  What are the implications for recognition of the colleges and universities with Middle States institutional accreditation? What does that mean for all the institutions that require CHEA membership as a quality indicator for accreditors that will be recognized for transfer credit?

Update on the USQF

And finally, a shameless plug for the United States Qualification Framework (USQF).  Melanie Gottlieb of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), Hironao Okahana of the American Council on Education (ACE) and I gave a presentation on the progress being made to develop the USQF.  It is a means to describe the relationship between academic qualifications in the United States.  Over 100 countries around the world employ this artfully simple tool to help learners, their parents, employers, and the higher education community understand the structure of the educational system and how qualifications relate to one another.  Qualifications frameworks are critical in facilitating student mobility and promoting equitable educational access, as well as contributing to workforce development. The United States Qualifications Framework has established its non-profit status and is building a Board of Directors that will oversee the continued development and advancement of the USQF.  The response of the session attendees to this development was positive and encouraging.

Did you attend CHEA?  What trends are you noticing in accreditation, either in the US or in other countries?  Is this system of voluntary quality assurance serving students and learners?  What do you think?

Margit Schatzman ECE President

Margit Schatzman is President of Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc. [ECE] and celebrated her 40th work anniversary in 2023.

As a pillar in the applied comparative education field, she puts vision into action to support colleagues in her field.