Regional Accreditation Outmoded as Quality Measure
DoD: Regional Accreditation outmoded as measure of quality

From the Sept. 2003 edition of The Military Educator

Quote:Voluntary Education and Accreditation

Gary A. Woods, Chief of DoD's Voluntary Education Program

...Everyone knew that the system could not vet each institution to determine its quality every time a military student applied for tuition assistance. The system had to come up with a shortcut that would automatically indicate that the program an institution offered on military installations met a quality test--a test that would go unchallenged and not turn each TA application into an investigative quagmire focused on proof of institutional or program quality....

All concerned searched for a quality indicator that would pass the academic quality test. The litmus test of choice was an obvious no-brainer. A time-tested method already existed for determination of whether an institution passed academic muster or not. The litmus test of the `70s was regional accreditation, then the hallmark of quality in the academic community. Actually, at the time, it was practically the only game in town.

Regional accreditation answered the question concerning which institutions could or could not be invited onto military installations to offer academic programs. It also became the benchmark against which voluntary education staffs measured the ability to approve TA requests for academic programs military students were pursuing at off base locations. If the program wasn't regionally accredited, it didn't qualify for TA.

Regional accreditation, regional accreditation, regional accreditation. We pounded that quality benchmark into the minds and molecular structure of our education counselors and education specialists....It was now one of the academic purists. If a program wasn't regionally accredited, it wasn't real; it didn't count.

Everything was humming along. Ying and yang were in harmony. The planets were revolving around the sun with unquestioned certitude. Quality was good. Regional accreditation was quality. Thus regional accreditation was good. If it weren't regionally accredited, how could it be good? And thus TA became linked at the hip with regional accreditation.

TA and regional accreditation were good. Nothing else was good or could be good. Right? Wrong.

Wrong because of sea changes taking place in the academic world--and because of DoD's efforts to adjust to those sea changes. Other highly respected, non-regional accrediting agencies came on the scene. The National Home Study Council, now the Distance Education and Training Council, a highly respected national accrediting agency, among others, became mainstream. The Veterans Administration, now Department of Veterans Affairs, began to approve many nationally accredited programs for receipt of veterans educational benefits.

The voluntary education program woke up one morning to find that regional accreditation was no longer the only quality game in town. Given that, how could it continue to stick its head in the sand and refuse to provide one form of federal educational assistance for a program that another federal agency was providing federal education money to?

It couldn't. DoD proactively looked at the criteria listed in its Voluntary Education Instruction and changed the checkpoint that had long been the hallmark against which our Gatekeepers measured the quality and acceptability of existing academic programs. DoD decided that it no longer belonged in the business of determining what was and was not acceptable academically. A determination was made that role should be the purview of the department of government that had responsibility for education. To that end, verbiage in the DoD Instruction for Voluntary Education was changed effective 1999.

Tuition assistance would now be issued for coursework offered by institutions accredited by accrediting agencies recognized by the US Department of Education. Regional accreditation was no longer the quality benchmark against which local education staffs could determine tuition assistance eligibility.

...The bottom-line? Cautioned concern intended to save the student from having to repeat a course or a desire to limit to the fullest extent possible the repetitious outlay of TA funds for similar or like courses is okay-and still encouraged. But overt bias for an institution accredited by one accrediting agency over another, based on an outdated perception of what accrediting agency reflects the proper amount of quality, is not. As long as the institution meets the Department of Education test of quality noted earlier, that is sufficient.

...There is no time better than the present to ensure that this becomes as ingrained in our everyday thought processes and habits as did the quality test of the past. We must become the honest brokers and advocates for this new mindset and we must do so now.

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