Throughout the Obama administration, the Department of Education has worked to expand access to high-quality postsecondary education through increased transparency and heightened accountability. We also have placed a stronger focus on student outcomes to promote college completion. This month, we took another step toward those goals by publishing new “accreditor dashboards,” based on data largely from the College Scorecard, which are designed to help policymakers, experts, and the public better understand the student outcomes of institutions that are approved by particular accrediting agencies.
The dashboards also will aid the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI)—an independent body that advises the Secretary of Education on matters of quality in higher education, including the recognition of accrediting agencies—in a key pilot project. This project will consider more systematically student achievement and other outcomes and performance metrics. NACIQI determined last year that it would experiment with more closely evaluating four key areas for each accrediting agency, beginning in June 2016:
- The performance and outcomes of the institutions the agency accredits;
- The decision activities of, and data gathered by, the accrediting agency;
- The accrediting agency’s standards and practices around student achievement; and
- The accrediting agency’s activities in improving program or institutional quality.
Both to help inform the NACIQI review of performance and outcomes measures for institutions within each institutional accrediting agency, and to increase the utility of this information for the public, the Department created visual reports that illustrate the performance of those agencies’ schools. These reports are an important first step, and the Department will continue to refine and update them, both with new data and with the feedback we hear from NACIQI and others.
In large part, we relied on data produced through the College Scorecard, released by the Department in September 2015. The Scorecard is designed to help inform students and families in their college searches, as well as to aid researchers and policymakers in considering institutional quality. The profiles look at those accrediting agencies that serve as the gatekeepers to the nearly $150 billion made available to colleges and universities through the federal financial aid system.
For each accrediting agency, these dashboards outline institutional characteristics, cost and debt levels, and completion rates and post-college outcomes—including typical earnings and repayment outcomes—of all the colleges and universities they accredit. These elements combine information about the schools in an accreditor’s portfolio with data that represent the educational opportunities and financial risk to students of those institutions. And all of these are critical pieces of information students and families may consider in holistically considering the value of the colleges that fall under an accrediting agency’s stamp of approval.
As NACIQI gathers to review the effectiveness of a number of accrediting agencies, we hope that these dashboards will help its members to identify problem areas, explore the strengths and weaknesses of accrediting agency oversight, and help members to ask the right questions of agencies as they seek to make recommendations that protect students and taxpayers.
Jennifer Hong is the Executive Director of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI); and Michael Itzkowitz is the Director of the College Scorecard.