Recent Florida legislation, Senate Bill 7044, should be viewed with much concern and with skepticism as to its consequences. The bill, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law, requires state colleges and universities to seek reaffirmation from different accrediting organizations at the end of each review cycle.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education both have identified major problems that could result from this action.
Some members of the Florida Legislature who supported this bill cited “transparency” as a reason to change agencies. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation standards used to recognize accreditors are based on the principle of transparency, which requires actions and decisions about institutions to be posted on the agency’s and the institution’s websites
Institutional accreditors are responsive to this standard and provide evidence that they act impartially and with transparency of activities and with mindfulness to ensure public trust.
Accreditation is a voluntary, scholarly process that institutions engage in to provide evidence to students, family and the public that the institution and its academic programs have quality integrity and are of public good. This review allows the institution to engage in examination of such indicators as mission and purpose, student outcomes, curriculums, faculty, library resources, financial stability, operational management and most aspects of the institution that affect quality.
To undertake this voluntary self-study is time- and resource-intensive because it involves just about every sector of the institution. Administrators, faculty, staff, and students — all are engaged in the continuous improvement model which includes reviewing data points of every sector that impacts quality assurance.
During this process, institutions and accrediting organizations become supportive and collaborative. Accreditors learn about the institutional culture, mission, challenges, demographics, economic impacts, community, students and campus educational environment. There is an investment by the accrediting organization in the well-being of the institution.
The collaborative rapport is created and enhanced between review cycles, which creates an environment that better serves students. The requirement to change accrediting organizations every cycle suggests that institutions establish new networks with accrediting organizations while they are in review with the current organization. Continuous improvement will be negatively affected, and accreditation costs will significantly increase.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and U.S. Department of Education have high levels of accountability for the accrediting organizations they recognize through appropriate standards. All recognized accrediting organizations adhere to recognition standards and protocols and implement similar and aligned standards when reviewing institutions.
Requiring institutions to change accreditors every cycle will not yield a different type of scrutiny because there is a consistency and similarity in standards and in application among all accrediting organizations. What will be different is that institutions will be extremely taxed in the preparation required to change accrediting organizations.
Senate Bill 7044 has unintended consequences for Florida higher education, undermining the purpose of accreditation and the guarantee that Florida students, parents and families are receiving quality academic experiences provided by quality Florida institutions.
Cynthia Jackson-Hammond is president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a nonprofit association focused on accreditation and higher education quality. She is former president of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, and is a Florida resident.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Cynthia Jackson-Hammond: Law creates concerns for Florida colleges