Jun 2018

Stealing A Page From Disruption To Transform Accreditation

One of the only things Republicans and Democrats in Washington, DC can agree on is that they don’t like the accreditation system in higher education.

The “watchdogs that don’t bark,” as former Education Secretary Arne Duncan famously termed them, just don’t seem to be doing a great job holding institutions responsible for their student outcomes, as a Wall Street Journal investigation showed.

This matters not only because any institution accredited in the northeast claims the same seal of quality assurance as Harvard University regardless of its outcomes, but also because for over half a century now, accreditors have been the gatekeepers to federal financial aid for colleges and universities.

Although Republicans and Democrats agree accreditation is problematic, they don’t agree on a solution. Enter Judith Eaton, the president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. In a piece titled “How disruption can contribute to the future success of accreditation,” Eaton opines on the merits of accreditors embracing disruption.

What she describes isn’t actually embracing disruptive innovation—a specific theory relating to competitive response. But her diagnosis of what ails accreditors and what it might take to help them does borrow some strong insights from the broader playbook on innovation. Accreditors would be smart to embrace this thinking to, as Eaton wrote, “move accreditation forward on our own terms.”


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