The largest regionally based accrediting association announced a program Wednesday that will explore ways in which its assessment of colleges and universities will vary based on the type of institution, recognizing differences among sectors and missions.
The Higher Learning Commission, which accredits institutions in 19 states across the broad center of the country, said that its criteria for accreditation would remain “consistent” for all institutions. But the standards used to accredit a particular college or university could become more “attentive to the interests, needs, aspirations and constraints of the sector in which an institution operates,” the commission said in a news release.
“At its core, differential accreditation will not simply recognize conceptually the diversity and differences among sectors, it will foreground the interests and needs of the various sectors when applying HLC’s requirements of accreditation,” said Barbara Gellman-Danley, HLC’s president.
Some critics of accreditation have argued for a decade or more that the arbiters of institutional quality should increasingly recognize that differences among institutions’ missions require that they be judged differently. Research university administrators have argued this most strongly — witness this 2016 essay by the former head of the Association of American Universities, in which he said that accreditation “subjects institutions to the same unproductive requirements whether they have superb or mediocre track records.”