WSCUC President Testifies before U.S. Department of Education

WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) president Jamienne Studley testified before the U.S. Department of Education during a hearing on the department’s plans to reexamine several higher education regulations and policies that relate to accreditation through a negotiated rulemaking process.

Ms. Studley offered insight on the role of accrediting commissions, and the importance of ensuring accreditors have ample information necessary to make appropriate judgements on institutional performance and quality. Additionally, Ms. Studley shared her thoughts on accreditors’ capacity to lead, change, and support innovation, despite common assumptions that accreditation and innovation are incompatible.

Key excerpts from Ms. Studley’s testimony are below.

Education quality and student success are indeed our special responsibility and areas of expertise. But to make the judgments expected of us we also need to evaluate governance responsibility and financial sustainability… The complex decisions we make about structural changes, institutional resilience, and student success require that we evaluate key finance and governance factors. Every gatekeeping accrediting agency should have the responsibility and expertise to do so as well.

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[Accreditors] are doing an increasingly good job of taking outcomes information into account to support both our quality assurance and improvement functions. No bright lines, but sharpened questions and clearer expectations. My own agency has developed new metrics to expand our understanding of completion rates and credit recovery. And finally, across the landscape, I believe I am observing increasing rigor and willingness to make the hard decisions that we expect of accreditors.

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There is a rumor afoot in the land that accreditation and innovation are incompatible. Presidents in my region tell me that accreditation doesn’t hinder their ability to introduce new programs and approaches. Some regulatory improvements could help promote innovation, such as giving accreditors room to decide when a site visit is necessary to judge a new program or other substantive change. And let’s be honest: we have regulatory speed bumps where there have been crashes and injuries. In those cases, we are right to choose caution over speed.

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Cooperation and exchange of information is a boring, perennial recommendation, but it is also important and overdue. From my vantage point as a federal regulator and now as an accreditor, I have seen the damage to students when we cannot or do not share warnings and concerns across our agencies. We should look at whether there are any rules changes that could facilitate early exchange of information and additional authority to help us protect students. This rulemaking should also address stronger tools for mandating earlier, more rigorous teach out plans.

Click here to read Ms. Studley’s prepared testimony in full.

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The WASC Senior College and University Commission is a regional accrediting agency serving a diverse membership of public and private higher education institutions throughout California, Hawaii, and the Pacific, as well as a limited number of institutions outside the U.S. Through its work of peer review, based on standards agreed to by the membership, the Commission encourages continuous institutional improvement and assures the membership and its constituencies, including the public, that accredited institutions are fulfilling their missions in service to their students and the public good.