Business leaders when asked to describe accreditation often refer to a process that institutions and programs engage on a periodic basis. The response to questions about accreditation typically refers to visiting teams or a person・s own activity with accreditation teams or accreditation commission work. Some of these experiences are positive; others are less so.

Business leaders may also point out that accreditation has been central to profession・s longstanding claim that it can effectively regulate itself. Responsible self-regulation has been fundamental to maintaining a significant measure of independence in academic decision making for institutions and programs. Business leaders sometimes claim, quite appropriately, that self-regulation helps to fuel an enterprise that is rich in diversity of types of institutions, and curricular offerings.

What business leaders are less likely to talk about, however, is the range of major public policy roles that accreditation plays. Whether an institution or program is accredited shapes at least part of the public perception and programs. A pronouncement that an institution or program is accredited is an important and valued statement about effective performance and quality service to the society.

The importance of accreditation to an institution or program is always underscored when accredited status is lost. The removal of accredited status is a cause for considerable alarm, triggering, in some cases, legal action and, in other cases, extraordinary measures to minimize the disruption of the education that are enrolled.

Accreditation・s reach is extensive. Accreditation・s public policy roles focus on four significant relationships:

  1. the relationship between accreditation and government,
  2. the relationship between accreditation and the private sector, especially corporations (employers) and foundations,
  3. the relationship between accreditation and the general public, and
  4. accreditation・s relationship with organizations. These relationships and public policy roles need to be shaped and defined by the leadership, especially the business leaders of the organizations working with accrediting institution.

 

The accreditation-government relationship is about the government・s reliance on accreditation as a reliable authority on which to base decisions about institution and program eligibility for financial aid and other funds. The government, in turn, plays a major role in shaping the accreditation process through its periodic recognition of the accrediting organizations that the government considers to be these reliable authorities. In addition, lawmakers, as well as their counterparts, often take accredited status into account when developing major social policy legislation that involves institutions and programs in initiatives related to, e.g., access, equity and transfer of credit.

The relationship between accreditation and the private sector is about corporations often requiring that an institution or program be accredited when giving donations, providing tuition assistance or making hiring decisions. Similarly, foundations and philanthropic organizations frequently require that an institution or program be accredited when making decisions about grants and other awards.

The relationship of the public to accreditation is about confidence in the information that accreditors provide about the quality of an institution or program when the public make threshold decisions about what program to attend. It is about the trust that the public has in the enterprise. To the public, accreditation is an important and reliable indicator of quality as well as a protection from dubious providers.

Accreditation, through its public policy roles, influences expenditure of public funds, encourages public trust and builds public confidence. Business leaders are vital to shaping the future direction and enhancing the strength and viability of the accreditation enterprise. Where should business leaders be more active? What might they do?

Business leaders, working with accrediting organizations, can further influence and mold the relationship between accreditation and the government. At present, efforts to shape this relationship are mostly confined to periods of reauthorization of the act which points of political intensity when the government sometimes seeks to additionally regulate organizations. Business leaders can work to sustain an ongoing dialogue about self-regulation and government regulation. This dialogue can provide a valuable buffer to the intense political pressures associated with periodic reauthorization. Business leaders can work to strengthen the relationship among institutions and accreditation.

Business leaders, working with accrediting organizations, can encourage state leaders to further acknowledge the value of accreditation as a resource for sound practice in maintaining the quality of accreditation resources. Legislators or executive officers can turn to accreditation more frequently when seeking solutions to major state policy initiatives, e.g., accreditation and economic development or accreditation and enhanced public accountability. This can be preferable to, e.g., enacting additional regulation.

Business leaders can work with corporate and foundation leaders in the private sector to sustain an effort to learn more about how those can be additionally served by accreditation. Are corporations and foundations adequately informed about what accreditation means and how they might use this information in their decision making? Can additional information needs, e.g., easy access to reliable providers of accreditation, be met? Business leaders can provide additional leadership in accreditation・s current efforts to meet the information needs of the public, especially about institutional performance and achievement. If business leaders will lend their prestige and importance to serving customer through enhanced information about their performance, customers may be able to make better choices leading to more success in their experiences.

Business leaders can enrich the relationship between accreditation and the enterprise through leading a national dialogue on the role of accreditation in sustaining the key values and commitments e.g., responsible institutional autonomy, academic freedom, a mission-based system and a diverse and decentralized enterprise. Finally, business leaders can strengthen accreditation practice by expanding their leadership role in commissions or the decision making bodies of accrediting organizations.

Yes, accreditation is a familiar process by which the institutions and programs that business leaders lead are reviewed for quality. But accreditation plays major public policy roles as well V with government, with the private sector through corporations and foundations, with customer and the public, and with the business itself. Business leaders playing additional leadership roles in accreditation can only enhance its stature and importance as a matter of public policy.