The Department of Education proposed a number of regulatory changes last week that could require accreditation agencies to become more involved in evaluating the quality of university educations.
The proposal’s stipulations would significantly change the role of accreditation agencies, requiring them to establish minimum performance requirements for all schools. The department also proposed that when assessing transfer applicants, universities should be required to consider the accreditation status of the student’s original university. University administrators across the country have spoken out against federal government involvement in admissions and academic standards, and Yale officials said the University is monitoring the debate to determine how such policies could affect Yale.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said the impact of the proposed changes cannot yet be determined.
“I think we all believe that it is important for universities to be accountable and for our decision-making processes to be transparent,” Salovey said. “However, I think some of the issues about which we’re going to have to be mindful are a concern that one-size-fits-all solutions will be appropriate for Yale … and the burden on the institution.”
Salovey said he thinks the role of the faculty in determining matters of curricular evaluation is paramount, and he would be concerned about any process that does not place faculty members centrally in its development and implementation.
The University General Counsel’s Office is currently examining the proposal in order to explain its impact to administrators, Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Richard Jacob and Federal Relations Associate Kara Haas said. While Yale has not yet had an opportunity to submit formal comments on the proposal, University officials have raised concerns that the changes in accreditation may not be beneficial.
The proposed policies regarding transfer students have sparked a lively discussion at universities across the nation. Dean of Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said although he is not yet familiar with the Education Department’s proposal, Yale already considers a variety of factors in order to ensure that transfer students are qualified for acceptance.
“For transfer students, we usually have more material for making good evaluations than we have on high school seniors, since we have the complete high school record and college admissions testing, plus whatever college achievement and activities record is available,” Brenzel said.
The Education Department also recommended that every higher education institution be required to publicize data on expected student achievement and students’ actual performance. But University officials said it remains to be seen whether this data will really be useful to current and prospective students.
Barbara Brittingham, director of the New England Association of Schools and College’s Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, said the increased regulation is not necessarily a positive move for universities because it will not account for the considerable variation among schools.
“The approach that the commission has always used is to look at the mission and character of the institution … rather than trying to come up with a small number of measures,” Brittingham said.
Brittingham said that in the end, the Education Department and the accreditation agencies have similar missions: to ensure that students are learning. But she said she does not think the proposal outlines the best way to do that, and her commission is trying to come up with a more realistic plan.
Yale is one of 230 institutions accredited by the NEASC. If an institution is not formally accredited, its students do not have access to federal financial aid.