Summary: remarks from Judith Watkins
vice president for accreditation services
Council for Higher Education Accreditation
May 1, 2004 • Council meeting, Cambridge, Mass.

Watkins offered three perspectives based on observation of the previous day’s discussion. She said one was central to this organization, one had to do with ACEJMC’s similarities to other organizations, and the third was things to think about.

She said two things had struck her as unique to this organization, the public nature of the accreditation process and the focus on diversity. She said she had not observed the same kind of thoughtful, far-ranging consideration of diversity in other organizations.

Watkins said similarities included a balance between the interests of professional practitioners and academics and between strict construction and loose construction. She said the search for consistency was a problem for all organizations making decisions based on reasoned consideration and was neither easy nor simple. She said other organizations also struggled with the essence of compliance and when enough was enough.

Watkins said the Council might want to consider the multiple roles people play in the process so that schools don’t think individuals have too much influence. Regarding consistency, she suggested doing an analysis to see which standards get the most attention. She said she had observed much discussion of resources and processes and suggested the Council look at what it could do with student learning outcomes, which are not the same as assessment.

Watkins said a CHEA standard for recognition required accreditors to assure that programs provide information regularly to the public about their own performance. She said the Council should consider what it expects programs to tell the public about their students’ performance.

In response to questions from members, Watkins said:

• Focus on learning outcomes is looking at the results, what comes out. Assessment is the activity; the focus of student learning is the result of the activity.

• Some institutions, concerned about accountability, are looking for a single, simple measure of success. It is best not to ask for specific retention and graduation rates, because the simple numbers don’t mean much.

• Ask schools what they are saying about themselves. You don’t need a standard, but somehow build this into reviews, and put the burden of information on the institution. Ask where the information comes from. The best approach is to trust and verify. One important facet is what they are putting on websites.

• There is no magic number for the length of accrediting cycle. Specialized accreditors tend to review more often than institutional accreditors. The shortest period I know of is four years, the longest 10.

• All accreditors are working toward a balance in considering resources, processes and outcomes. A CHEA standard requires self-scrutiny in some form, and some accreditors evaluate their own work formally.

Watkins also discussed possible implications of a pending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which could result in greater federal intrusion regarding financial information, transfer credit decisions and other factors. She said CHEA was committed to the self-regulation of higher education and decided which propositions to support based on their effect on self-regulation.