Acreditación desde perspectiva Republicanos de EEUU: Trump y De Santis
Junio 3, 2023

Why Are Trump and DeSantis Talking About Accreditation?

Republican politicians have found a new target in their efforts to reshape higher education: accrediting agencies.

Announcing his presidential bid this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Republican of Florida, called out accrediting agencies as “cartels” that are driving the proliferation of diversity, equity, and inclusion policies on college campuses.

If he were elected president, DeSantis said, the U.S. Department of Education would create “alternative accreditation regimes, where instead of saying, ‘You will only get accredited if you do DEI,’ you’ll have an accreditor that will say, ‘We will not accredit you if you do DEI.’” (Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs differ from campus to campus, and encompass supports for students from underserved communities, diversity statements in hiring, stand-alone offices aimed at inclusion, and diversity training for employees.)

Earlier in May, former President Donald Trump, who is running to return to office, said he would “fire” the existing accrediting agencies and create new ones to reclaim “our once-great educational institutions from the radical left.”

The intricacies of accreditation policy are not usually the fodder of presidential campaigns. The accreditation process is complex, lengthy, and mostly opaque; for the average college, it happens as infrequently as once a decade; and the heads of accrediting agencies usually shun the media, let alone attention from partisan campaigns.

DeSantis has tried to put higher education front and center as a governor, said Jonathan Fansmith, senior vice president for government relations at the American Council on Education. But even among experts, he said, accreditation is not usually a major issue in discussions of higher-ed policy.

Ralph A. Wolff, a former president of an accreditor, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, said the candidates’ references to accreditation are another attempt to scare the public over policies to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. “Nobody has lost accreditation for failing to meet a standard under DEI,” he said. “It’s another one of these myths — just a trigger to make someone the evil party.”

In the Spotlight

Mentions by two major presidential candidates are just the latest effort by conservative politicians to put a spotlight on the private nonprofit organizations that serve as gatekeepers for federal financial aid. Colleges that want to receive such aid must be accredited by a federally recognized accreditor.

In Congress, Rep. Burgess Owens, Republican of Utah, has introduced a bill that would prohibit accreditors from making colleges “meet any political litmus tests, such as requiring adherence to DEI standards, as a condition of accreditation.”

DEI legislation tracker

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Explore maps and read descriptions and status of bills in states where lawmakers are seeking to restrict colleges’ DEI efforts.

Visit The Assault on DEI for related stories.

As governor, DeSantis championed a 2022 law requiring all of the state’s public colleges to seek accreditation from any agency that is not the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges — the group that now oversees Florida’s 28 state colleges and 12 public universities. The law came on the heels of the accreditor’s inquiries about political interference and conflicts of interest at Florida State University and the University of Florida.

Lawmakers in North Carolina are now considering a similar measure, inspired at least in part by the Southern Association’s questions about the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s plan to start a School of Civic Life and Leadership. The accreditor asked whether the university’s trustees had involved faculty members in developing the plan. The accreditor’s standards require colleges to recognize “the importance of both faculty and administrative involvement in the approval of educational programs.”

The Southern Association’s president, Belle S. Wheelan, declined to comment for this article.

The association is one of seven accrediting bodies that oversee nearly all of the nation’s traditional public and private nonprofit colleges. They were previously called “regional” accreditors because their oversight was limited to specific states.

The new Florida law is possible only because those geographic limits were dropped by the Trump administration. Now any college can be accredited by any of those seven associations, though only a handful have sought to switch so far.

Nobody has lost accreditation for failing to meet a standard under DEI.

DeSantis and other conservative politicians have now seized on the fact that six of the seven major accrediting agencies require colleges to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, for example by considering colleges’ mission statements, the diversity of their faculties, and disparate outcomes between white students and students of color. The agency that has no DEI requirements is the Southern Association — the group from which Florida’s colleges are bound by state law to leave within the next decade.

Neither the DeSantis nor the Trump presidential campaigns responded to requests for comment.

Many Hurdles

Accreditation experts said the critique by DeSantis and other conservatives is misplaced. Their implication is that DEI measures are seeking to help one group of students at the expense of another group, said Sonny Ramaswamy, president of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, another accreditor. “We are not going to disadvantage one group by trying to help another group,” he said.

Accreditors try to help all students succeed and do not focus only on racial disparities, said Jamienne S. Studley, president of the Western Association’s Senior College and University Commission. “‘All students’ includes veterans and transfer students,” she wrote in an email, “rural students and parents, part-time and students studying by distance or on campus, of all backgrounds, faiths, ages, and academic goals and programs.”

The proposals by both DeSantis and Trump would also face significant legal and regulatory hurdles.

DeSantis’s proposal may be slightly more plausible than Trump’s, said Fansmith of the American Council on Education, but neither is possible under current federal law, which bars the government from dictating anything to do with the curriculum or what is taught in college classrooms. Overhauling the federal Higher Education Act , which was due to be reauthorized a decade ago, to reshape or eliminate accreditation requirements is probably out of the question in the near future, Fansmith said, because neither party is likely to win a large enough majority in the U.S. Senate to proceed with anything that could be controversial.

There are legitimate concerns about how accreditation works, especially as it relates to accreditors’ roles in limiting the cost of college and rise in student debt, Fansmith said. But those issues don’t make for great campaign speeches.

Read other items in this The Assault on DEI package.
We welcome your thoughts and questions about this article. Please email the editors or submit a letter for publication.


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