Is Accreditation the Enemy of Innovation?

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Barbara Gellman-DanleyPut simply: accreditation isn’t the enemy of innovation. At least it doesn’t have to be. This is the core argument Dr. Barbara Gellman-Danley, president of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), is trying to champion. At its best, accreditation should help raise all boats and possibly inform and inspire innovation.

The confluence of this concept coming up in conversations around accreditation is interesting. Recently, on the invitation of Dr. Judith Eaton, I had the pleasure of keynoting the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Her ask of me was to reflect on the ways in which accreditation, analytics, and innovation can come together to help support student success and institutional quality. We spent a good amount of time exploring the way a different approach to data can help power a “culture of care,” transform approaches to student pathways, and study the impact of the family of innovations institutions are adopting.

On the other side of the argument, there definitely is frustration. Indeed, the day following the CHEA presentation, in a conversation with a president of a large institution that will remain nameless, the president shared that he was deeply troubled about an upcoming accreditation process. He outlined the challenge of working with their last accreditation team. This team was especially regressive around the models they wanted to see. It was particularly disappointing as he had seen other accreditation teams at other times be catalytic, not constraining.

In the podcast that follows, Barbara Gellman-Danley, unpacks how innovation takes shape and how accreditation might help, rather than hinder, the process of leading positive change–particularly change aimed at improving student success. She outlines HLC’s new strategic plan and their Partners for Transformation Task Force, a project supported by the Lumina Foundation. The Task Force pulled together diverse thinkers from Karen Stout to Michael Crow. It’s an interesting look at how the accreditation process could—and arguably should—evolve in the months and years come. If you’re interested in championing innovation and hoping to lead conversations on how accreditation can help, which are particularly timely given the coming re-authorization of the Higher Education Act, take the time to listen in!

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