Letter to the Editor: U.S. News and World Report On-Line

May 30, 2014


Dear Editor:

Among issues raised by Rory O’Sullivan in his commentary (May 29, “Selling more debt…”), the participation by top executives of colleges and schools accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as decision and policy-makers on the Council is equated to “foxes watching the henhouse.” Or more elegantly stated, the system of accreditation in the U.S., which is based on peer evaluations and independent, self-governed entities imposing standards of quality and integrity on themselves voluntarily, may lead to conflicts of interest that are contrary to the public interest and that of students.

O’Sullivan is not the first to make this claim or will he likely be the last; and like those who have gone before him, his allegation has no basis in fact or empirical data. But here are facts and data to illuminate the discussion, for those who choose to encounter them:

  1. At least 20% of the Council is composed of representatives of the public. Those individuals have no direct or indirect affiliation with member institutions; they volunteer to serve in order to provide independent, unaffiliated perspective and scrutiny.
  2. Public members play an active role in every aspect of the Council’s policy making and decision making activities. They serve on each of the institutional review committees; they serve on all of the policy-making committees, and they actively participate in the full Council deliberations where recommendations are debated and voted.
  3. Public members also serve on the Council appeals panel, which is empowered to review, sustain or overturn Council decisions.
  4. Public members serve on the ACICS Board of Directors, which decides the allocation of resources and effectiveness of the accreditation enterprise. They routinely serve on the Board’s executive committee as well.
  5. Members of the public higher education and workforce development communities serve as peer evaluators on ACICS site evaluation teams. Again, they have no affiliation with ACICS colleges, schools or any other commercial aspects of the enterprise.
  6. The composition of the Council is in compliance with the accreditation regulations of the U.S. Department of Education.

Some have suggested that more than 20% public member participation is needed to ensure greater integrity of policies and accreditation decisions. Those voices have not directly interviewed any of the hundreds of public members who have served honorably and effectively on the Council during its 102-year history. More regrettably, O’Sullivan’s broad generalities are a disservice to the intelligent, professional and sophisticated public members of the ACICS Council who voluntarily expend great effort and time to make policies and decisions that preserve the best interests of students. Their contribution does not deserve marginalization, but rather, appreciation.

Albert C. Gray, President