Building a Better University through Accreditation
Accreditation: that one word has been a central focus for the leadership at Ashford University for the past several years. It has certainly resulted in a lot of work, and it has created its fair share of stress, but it has also spurred significant progress. Being a past and present university president and a former member of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges accrediting commission, I have experienced the accreditation process from several different angles. And, as you might suspect, I am frequently asked what I really think about regional accreditation. Let me share some of my thoughts with you.
First, I want to provide a little background. U.S. higher education relies on a regional accreditation system that involves six regional accreditors. Ashford’s region falls under the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). More specifically, within WASC, Ashford is accredited by WSCUC, the WASC Senior College and University Commission. For more than 50 years, the public, state governments, and the federal government have relied upon regional accreditation as the primary means to ensure a level of quality in American higher education. Accreditation also plays a critical role as gatekeeper to Title IV funds, such as Pell grants, that many students use to pay for higher education. Simply put, if an institution is not accredited, it cannot accept these funds. For both of these reasons, Ashford takes accreditation very seriously.
There are, however, deeper reasons to pay close attention to regional accreditation. If done effectively, and in a partnership manner, the accreditation process is a wonderful source of information and self-reflection. In fact, that is my fundamental view on what institutions gain most from participation in accreditation work. Accreditors bring external voices and eyes to our work. Accreditation helps us focus on our priorities. It helps us move past our own biases and beliefs. And it offers the opportunity to work on key issues and have appropriate accountability.
Yes, accreditation can be stressful. But, at the end of the day, the regional accreditation process encourages an environment of constant improvement. That helps us serve our students better. And that, of course, is a good thing for all concerned.
Dr. Richard L. Pattenaude is the President and CEO of Ashford University.