The History of Accreditation
Adapted from The Higher Learning Commission Handbook of Accreditation, Third Edition
- Accreditation in the United States
- The North Central Association
- The Higher Learning Commission
- Kenyon Accreditation History
Voluntary accreditation in higher education originated almost a century ago as a uniquely American process. Sought voluntarily by colleges and universities, accreditation is conferred by nongovernmental bodies. Voluntary accreditation has two fundamental purposes: quality assurance and institutional and program improvement.
Voluntary accreditation has come to be marked by the following attributes: it is provided through private agencies; it requires a significant exercise of self-evaluation by an institution or program, the results of which are summarized in a report given to the agency; a team visit is conducted by the agency; judgments about accreditation are made by expert and trained peers; and institutions under review have opportunities to respond to most steps in the process. Although in recent years accrediting associations are implementing unique processes, they continue to rely on institutional self-evaluation, peer review, and institutional response as essential to sound accreditation practice.
Throughout the last decade, many nations have established new quality assurance agencies that are often funded by, but independent of, government ministries. Some follow the American model of accreditation; others offer different types of quality assurance programs. International discussions are currently being conducted about mutual recognition, perhaps adding a new global dimension to the U.S. accreditation process. There are two types of accreditation for higher education in the United States: institutional accreditation and specialized accreditation.
On March 29 and 30, 1895, thirty-six school, college, and university administrators from seven midwestern states met at Northwestern University. They had been called to "organize, if deemed expedient, an association of colleges and schools of the North-Central States." The constitution of the association formed by these educators stated that the North Central Association's object would be "the establishment of close relations between the colleges and secondary schools" of the region.
Within a short time, the desire to improve articulation between secondary schools and colleges led to extensive examination of the quality of education at both levels; that, in turn, led to the accreditation of secondary schools and, later, colleges and universities. Three histories of the Association--Calvin O. Davis' A History of the North Central Association (1945), Louis G. Geiger's Voluntary Accreditation: A History of the North Central Association 1945--1970 (1970), and Mark Newman's An Agency of Change: One Hundred Years of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (1997)--trace this evolution and chronicle the decisions and actions the Association has taken to provide educational leadership to the region and the country.
Today, the Association is a membership organization of colleges and schools in nineteen states (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), American Dependents' Schools operated overseas for the children of American military and civilian personnel, and schools and colleges in sovereign U.S. tribal nations within the nineteen states. Through its Board, the Association controls the use of its name, logo, and intellectual property.
Two independent corporations, the Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (CASI) in Tempe, Arizona, and The Higher Learning Commission, in Chicago, Illinois, also hold membership in the Association. The two commissions hold the legal authority to conduct accrediting activities for educational organizations. CASI accredits schools below the postsecondary degree-granting level, and The Higher Learning Commission accredits degree granting higher education organizations.
In 2000, the institutional members of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools agreed to a corporate restructuring of the Association. Until then, neither Commission had a legal status (or clear legal responsibility) outside of the Association.
In November 2000, both Commissions became independent corporations with clear legal responsibility for their accrediting activities. When it filed for new corporate status, the Commission decided to change its name from the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education to The Higher Learning Commission.
Triggered by internal self-evaluation and the major study completed by its Committee on Organizational Effectiveness and Future Directions (1995--1997), the Commission restructured its governance and decision-making processes in the late 1990s and conducted a major review of its mission. On June 22, 2000, the Commission's Board of Trustees adopted a seminal series of interrelated statements that together define the organization and its work. These statements emerged from a highly participatory process that established for the Commission a new mission statement, core values, a vision, and strategic priorities that are fundamental to the organization and to its mission. The Commission's new mission statement is succinct, yet directive: Serving the common good by assuring and advancing the quality of higher learning.
For almost four decades, the Commission has been one of a triad of constituencies concerned with quality assurance. States license and give degree-granting authority; the federal government distributes student aid and other grant monies to eligible colleges and universities; and both often rely on testimony of acceptable educational quality provided by the accrediting associations. With its most recent revision of accreditation criteria, the Commission gives evidence of its responsibility not only to its members but to governmental entities and other important constituencies. Through these new criteria, the Commission links its work to the efforts of colleges and universities to be responsive to those who seek access to effective educational opportunities that prepare graduates for effective citizenship, for lifelong learning, and for careers.
Kenyon College has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools continuously since 1938. The last self study, completed in 2000 confirmed Kenyon's Accreditation status, fully satisfying all five of the Association's Reaccreditation Criteria and meeting the Association's General Institutional Requirements. 2000 Self Study in PDF