06.17.15

Murray: Improvements Needed to Strengthen Higher Ed Accreditation, Help Ensure Colleges Provide a Quality Education

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered remarks at a Committee hearing on Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Evaluating Accreditation’s Role in Ensuring Quality. In her opening statement, Murray highlighted the need to strengthen the role that accreditation plays in making sure colleges and universities are providing a quality education. The need to improve this quality assurance in higher education was demonstrated by the recent collapse and bankruptcy of Corinthian Colleges, Inc.

Murray also outlined ways to improve accreditation, including rigorously evaluating student success, promoting best practices across regions and across systems, ensuring transparency, and providing better consumer data around student outcomes like retention, completion, and transfer rates.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“Expanding opportunities for more Americans to further their education is, of course, an important investment for a student’s future, but it is also an important investment for our country. It will strengthen the workforce we’ll need to compete in the 21st century global economy, and it will help us grow our economy from the middle out, not the top down.  So, we should work on ways to help more students earn their degree and gain a foothold into the middle class. But we can’t deny that higher education is out of reach for too many aspiring students.”

 

“Accreditors, states, and the federal government have a responsibility to make sure that gatekeeping role is working effectively. And it is also important for both students and taxpayers who expect to get a good return on their investment in higher education. Recently, we have seen far too many examples of students and taxpayers facing the consequences of poor oversight.  There is, without a doubt, room for improvement in the current system to better assess an institution’s quality and student outcomes.”

 

“…We need to modernize the system to make sure it is responding to the changing landscape of higher education. A new wave of online courses and programs can occupy a gray area for accreditors. But online programs also present new opportunities to evaluate quality.  So it’s time to update the accreditation system to respond to those needs and better protect consumers.”

 

“…I am open to a conversation on refocusing accreditors’ role. But that should never come at the expense of forgoing the enforcement of important federal protections, like students’ safety on campus or ensuring a college is financially sound. And the Department of Education should receive the resources to enforce that compliance.”

 

“The collapse of Corinthian Colleges shows that we all need to do more for students to ensure that quality is verified, students are protected, and taxpayer dollars are well-spent.”

 

“As I’ve said before, we need better consumer data around student outcomes, like retention, completion, and transfer rates. That would go a long way in helping students and families as they shop for college options. But it would also be a powerful tool for accreditors to assess quality at a given institution.”

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“Thank you, Chairman Alexander. And I want to especially thank our witnesses for being here today to talk about how to improve quality at our nation’s colleges and universities.

 

“Expanding opportunities for more Americans to further their education is, of course, an important investment for a student’s future, but it is also an important investment for our country.

 

“It will strengthen the workforce we’ll need to compete in the 21st century global economy. And it will help us grow our economy from the middle out, not the top down.

 

“So, we should work on ways to help more students earn their degree and gain a foothold into the middle class. But we can’t deny that higher education is out of reach for too many aspiring students.

“As we continue our conversations on the Higher Education Act, I’m going to be focused on several priorities.

 

“I want to make college more affordable and reduce the crushing burden of student debt.

 

“I believe all students should have access to a safe learning environment. So, strengthening protections for students and preventing sexual violence, assault, and bullying on campus is a priority for me, as I know it is for families across the country.

 

“And we need to make sure students from all walks of life have strong, clear pathways into and through higher education.

 

“Our accreditation system plays an important role in making sure colleges and universities are providing a quality education.  I’m glad that today we’ll get the chance to talk about strengthening that quality assurance.

 

“Without accreditation, a college or university is not eligible for federal student aid.

 

“Accreditors, states, and the federal government have a responsibility to make sure that gatekeeping role is working effectively. And it is also important for both students and taxpayers who expect to get a good return on their investment in higher education.

 

“Recently, we have seen far too many examples of students and taxpayers facing the consequences of poor oversight.  There is, without a doubt, room for improvement in the current system to better assess an institution’s quality and student outcomes.

 

“First, we need to modernize the system to make sure it is responding to the changing landscape of higher education. A new wave of online courses and programs can occupy a gray area for accreditors. But online programs also present new opportunities to evaluate quality.  So it’s time to update the accreditation system to respond to those needs and better protect consumers.

 

“Second, we need to promote best practices across regions and across accreditation systems.

 

“I also recognize accreditors have to wear many hats. They must assess the quality of a school, and, increasingly, enforce compliance for several federal laws and regulations. That can distract accreditors from indicators of quality, like student learning and success.

 

“So I am open to a conversation on refocusing accreditors’ role. But that should never come at the expense of forgoing the enforcement of important federal protections, like students safety on campus or ensuring a college is financially sound. And the Department of Education should receive the resources to enforce that compliance.

 

“Accreditors also need to be thinking about how to assess quality and educational excellence, both by developing new tools to assess national online programs and by more rigorously evaluating student outcomes.

 

“Third, we need more transparency and consistency from the peer-review accreditation process. There is great value in peer review, and we’ve seen it work in many sectors, like medicine, law, and engineering. But we need stronger protections to prevent conflicts of interest.

 

“Finally, I applaud the recent efforts by some accreditors to strengthen the focus on student success and to more rigorously verify the claims made by institutions. We need more of that.

 

“Accrediting bodies have sometimes certified colleges where there is a pattern of extraordinarily high student loan defaults or where colleges use false job placement information.

 

“The collapse of Corinthian Colleges shows that we all need to do more for students to ensure that quality is verified, students are protected, and taxpayer dollars are well-spent.

 

“As I’ve said before, we need better consumer data around student outcomes, like retention, completion, and transfer rates. That would go a long way in helping students and families as they shop for college options. But it would also be a powerful tool for accreditors to assess quality at a given institution.

 

“I’m looking forward to hearing from our witnesses today on their experience and their perspective on how we can best strengthen the accreditation system.

 

“Students, families, and taxpayers trust accreditors to ensure colleges and universities in our country offer a quality education. We need to make sure the system is worthy of that trust.

 

“Thank you.”