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Reformers agree that higher education accreditation needs improving, especially around the areas of increased data, reliable measures of student outcomes, and the proper role of the federal government. At AEI on Monday afternoon, a distinguished panel met to discuss a new paper by former University of Colorado president and US senator Hank Brown.
Brown opened the discussion by pinpointing a few problems with the current accreditation model, including its high costs in terms of money and time, its lack of transparency, its failure to shutter chronically underperforming institutions, and the fact that it discourages innovation. While acknowledging some real concerns with the accreditation process, Judith Eaton of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation defended the current model as promoting institutional peer review and autonomy, academic freedom, and a strong admissions policy — all hallmarks of the American higher education system.
Amy Laitinen of the New America Foundation and Arthur Rothkopf, formerly of Lafayette College, took turns discussing the appropriate role of the federal government to nurture a better accreditation process. Although panelists debated the best possible solutions, they were in consensus on the need for reform.
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There is an emerging belief among many higher education observers that the accreditation system that regulates American colleges and universities is failing consumers and stifling innovation. Institutions are accredited by an opaque peer-review process largely based on inputs, not student outcomes. As a result, even chronically underperforming schools rarely lose accreditation. And since accreditation controls access to federal student aid—the lifeblood of most institutions—the current system discourages innovation, as school leaders seek to conform to a particular conception of what college looks like.
At this event, a distinguished panel will discuss the findings of a new working paper and outline specific policy recommendations to reform accreditation for the 21st century.
If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.
Hank Brown, Former US Senator and Former President of the University of Colorado
Judith Eaton, Council for Higher Education Accreditation
Amy Laitinen, New America Foundation
Arthur Rothkopf, President Emeritus of Lafayette College
Andrew P. Kelly, AEI
Adjournment and Wine and Cheese Reception
For more information, please contact Daniel Lautzenheiser at firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.862.5843.
For media inquiries, please contact MediaServices@aei.org, 202.862.5829.
Hank Brown is an attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and heads the Accreditation Reform Initiative of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. He is the immediate past president of the University of Colorado, and also served as the 11th president of the University of Northern Colorado. Before that, he served Colorado in the US Senate and more than five consecutive terms in the US House of Representatives for Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District. Brown served in the Colorado State Senate from 1972 to 1976. From 1969 to 1980, he was a vice president at Monfort of Colorado. He was in the US Navy from 1962 to 1966. He likewise volunteered for duty in Vietnam and was decorated for his combat service as a forward air controller.
Judith Eaton is president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the largest institutional higher education membership organization in the United States. A national advocate and institutional voice for self-regulation of academic quality through accreditation, CHEA is an association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities and is the only private-sector body in the United States that “recognizes” US institutional and programmatic accreditors for quality, scrutinizing these organizations and affirming that they meet CHEA’s quality standards. At present, 60 accreditors are CHEA-recognized. Before her work at CHEA, Eaton served as chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, where she was responsible for leadership and coordination of 32 institutions serving more than 162,000 students statewide. Previously, she was president of the Council for Aid to Education, Community College of Philadelphia, and of the Community College of Southern Nevada. She likewise served as vice president of the American Council on Education. Eaton has also held full- and part-time teaching positions at Columbia University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University.
Andrew P. Kelly is the director of the Center on Higher Education Reform and a resident scholar in education policy studies at AEI. His research focuses on higher education policy, innovation, financial aid reform, and the politics of education policy. Previously, he was a research assistant at AEI, where his work focused on the preparation of school leaders, collective bargaining in public schools, and the politics of education. His research has appeared in the American Journal of Education, Teachers College Record, Educational Policy, Policy Studies Journal, and Education Next as well as popular outlets such as Education Week, Inside Higher Ed, Forbes, The Atlantic, National Affairs, The Weekly Standard, and The Huffington Post. He is coeditor of “Stretching the Higher Education Dollar: How Innovation Can Improve Access, Equity, and Affordability” (Harvard Education Press, 2013), “Getting to Graduation: The Completion Agenda in Higher Education” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), “Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit: Lessons from A Half-Century of Federal Efforts to Improve America's Schools” (Harvard Education Press, 2011), and “Reinventing Higher Education: The Promise of Innovation” (Harvard Education Press, 2011). In 2011, Kelly was named one of 16 "Next Generation Leaders" in education policy by the Policy Notebook blog on Education Week.
Amy Laitinen is deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation. Before joining New America, Laitinen was a senior policy analyst for higher education at Education Sector, a nonpartisan education think tank in Washington, DC, where she focused on student financial aid and federal higher education tax policy. Laitinen previously served as a policy adviser to the undersecretary and assistant secretary for vocational and adult education at the US Department of Education, where she was responsible for developing policy and budget proposals for postsecondary education, adult and workforce education, and interagency policy. She also led policy design efforts for President Obama's proposed $12 billion American Graduation Initiative and served as a policy adviser in the White House, where she helped plan the White House Community College Summit.
Arthur Rothkopf is president emeritus of Lafayette College and vice-chair of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, an advisory group to the secretary of education. Previously, he was senior vice president and counselor to the president of the US Chamber of Commerce from July 1, 2005 through the end of July 2010. His responsibilities included leadership of the Chamber’s education and workforce initiative. He supervised three nonprofit entities affiliated with the Chamber: the Institute for a Competitive Workforce; the Business Civic Leadership Center, dedicated to improved business and society relations; and the National Chamber Foundation, an in-house think tank. Before joining the Chamber, Rothkopf served for 12 years as president of Lafayette. Before becoming Lafayette president in July 1993, he was deputy secretary of the US Department of Transportation (DOT), appointed by President George H.W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate. Before that, he served as general counsel of the department, also a Senate-confirmed position. Before joining DOT, Rothkopf was a senior partner in the Washington, DC, law firm of Hogan & Hartson, specializing in tax, regulatory, and legislative representation of US and foreign clients. He began his career as a lawyer for the Department of the Treasury and the Securities and Exchange Commission.