Does accreditation spur innovation?

Discussion in 'Accreditation Discussions (RA, DETC, state approva' started by Kizmet, Feb 1, 2015.

  1. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator

  2. Ted Heiks

    Ted Heiks Moderator and Distinguished Senior Member

    Accreditation stifles innovation.
  3. PaulC

    PaulC Member

    I would split the difference and say that, while I could not be certain that it inherently stifles innovation, I also can see nothing about it that would drive innovation, either. But then, marketing has so bastardized the meaning of so many words, innovation at the top of that list, that I really am not sure if the context of the question is relative to the common misuse of the word, or the original meaning.

    I think it is likely there are genuine innovators in accredited institutions. The question would be, do the constraints required to comply with accreditation standards limit the ability of innovators to execute on their visions. Keep in mind that innovation is just a new and unique idea until it is diffused and in practice. That diffusion may be where accreditation is the neck in the bottle.

    Most of what I see being sold as innovation in higher ed is, more accurately, continuous improvement.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 10, 2015
  4. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator

    Thanks for your thoughtful answer.
  5. Anthony Pina

    Anthony Pina Active Member

    As someone who is directly involved in accreditation (not only as a member of my university's accreditation steering committee) but also as a member of onsite visiting teams for our regional accrediting body, I echo PaulC's remarks. For me, the major benefit of the accreditation process is that it compels us to take a step back and look at what we are doing, why we are doing it, how we assess whether we are doing it well and how to do it better (continuous improvement).

    So often, we are so busy "doing," that we do not take the time to measure and assess. Accreditation has us articulate our goals, determine how to measure whether the goals have been met and what to do when they are not.

    Surely, the current peer-reviewed accreditation process is not without its weaknesses (one of which is that innovation can get stifled); however, I am not aware of a better alternative.
  6. potpourri

    potpourri New Member

    Well stated. I've always been impressed with your articulate and thorough answers. I'm so glad to consider you a great reference when it comes to accreditation and other matters.
  7. Anthony Pina

    Anthony Pina Active Member

    Thank you for your very kind words. Over the years, DI has been a source of very useful information, due to a lot of good people who are willing to look for things and post about them. I have been blessed to have had a career with many of opportunities for experience and learning, so I am happy to share and help where I can.
  8. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I think different institutions handle accreditation differently. For schools like Stanford, they are innovating every day. They have Nobel laureates teaching and conducting research. Not a month passes that I don't hear about Cornell doing something with nano bots to treat cancer or revolutionizing something in food science. But for institutions like these, accreditation is in the background.

    Cornell, for example, was until 2001 accredited by the New York Board of Regents. They maintained dual accreditation (New York and Regional) for decades before ending their affiliation with NYS Regents. There are many institutions where that might be a big deal. People like us would be all over it. Did any of Cornell's historic change in a creditors affect their prestige? No. Cornell is a world class institution by virtue of innovation and cutting edge research. If all of the Ivys simultaneously dropped their accreditation tomorrow, they would likely still have waiting lists to get in. There would likely still be employers actively recruiting their graduates (and likely so for a number of non-Ivy but still elite institutions). Nobody looks at a Stanford pamphlet and says:

    "You know, I wasn't sure about this place, but the WASC accreditation really elevates them in my eyes."

    For a large number of non-elite schools, however, accreditation is the crown jewel. There are so many schools clamoring for a piece of the pie. I'm sure to many (particularly newer) schools, accreditation is an unfortunate inconvenience but a necessary cost of doing business. In those schools I would say that yes, accreditation hinders innovation. But that isn't the fault of the accreditors. It's the fault of the business of education becoming much more business and less about research and teaching.

    And somewhere in the middle between the elites, who never really have to worry about losing their accreditation, and the bottom rung, where their financial people likely wake up in the middle of the night with ulcer pain in fear of being denied re accreditation the next time around, there is a pool of schools who view accreditation in the healthy, reflective light described here.

    So you have innovators who would likely innovate even if there were no accreditation. You have naysayers who likely wouldn't innovate unless it could be proven to show a slight boost in profits to their for-profit holding company. And then you have schools who acknowledge accreditation can be a pain but try to use it as an opportunity to grow and get better.

    To me, that isn't an indictment of accreditation. There are people who maintain healthy weights without weight watchers. There are people who join weight watchers with a crappy attitude and don't see their desired results. But if weight watchers helps even a small segment improve, then weight watchers has proven its worth. Same here. Maybe accreditation isn't what makes Wharton a top business school. But accreditation also doesn't hold American InterContinental University back from doing great things. If the universities in the middle can use the oversight to strengthen their curriculum and improve the learning experience for their students then those are the schools that benefit. And that's an OK thing.
  9. Anthony Pina

    Anthony Pina Active Member

    Very nice analysis. This topic is very timely for me, since our onsite team visit for reaffirmation of accreditation occurs this week. One month from now, I will be visiting a school in another state as a member of the onsite visiting team for that university's ten-year reaffirmation of accreditation. As you can probably guess, next week's visit will generate more anxiety for me than next month's visit :)

    You are correct that accreditation means different things to different institutions. For some (including a state university for which I used to work), accreditation was treated largely as a large inconvenience and interruption to normal operations, but necessary, as accreditation was required for our students to be able to receive federal financial aid. At my current institution, accreditation is something that was considered on a regular basis and the accreditation standards have been referenced often when decisions are made. The "outside eyes" have served as a catalyst to improve how we do things and assess what we do. Is it a lot of work, stressful and, at times, frustrating? Sure, but, overall, I view it as a good thing.

    While accreditation can surely mean different things to different schools, it can also mean different things to different departments within the same institution--particularly when there are both regional and specialized/programmatic accreditation agencies involved. While the regional accrediting agencies each have their uniqueness, the various programmatic accrediting bodies can vary widely in their level of prescription and emphases.

    Does accreditation spur innovation? At times, but not usually. Certain accreditation standards can reinforce status quo behaviors, but many regional accrediting standards leave room for innovation. A common problem is that many institutions do not want to be put in the position of having to justify too many innovative actions, so they play it safe and continue to do things the "safe" and "accepted" way. It is recognized that accreditation teams are made up of academics from other institutions, who may be influenced by how their own institutions do things and who may possibly not be open to "out of the box" thinking. That kind of subjectivity when the stakes are high can scare some away from innovation.

    However, one thing that tends to be missing in discussions of accreditation (and, particularly on this topic of innovation) is that accreditation is only one piece of the puzzle. In many cases, the real stifling of innovation is not the accrediting agency, but the state office of education and the U.S. Department of Education's rules and regulations, which are, in Neuhaus's words, primarily about the "business of education," rather than about teaching, learning and research. In my personal experience as a university administrator, federal regulations and definitions have done more to stifle innovation at my institutions than the accreditation bodies.

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